Surterra, one of the state's largest medical marijuana treatment centers, has been forced to stop processing cannabis — halting its production of new items — after it failed to meet a food safety inspection deadline in a little-noticed provision of state law last week.
The requirement, which mandates that medical marijuana treatment centers complete third-party inspections in the first year to ensure "good manufacturing practices," caught several businesses by surprise earlier this month when the Department of Health indicated that it was enforcing the provision in letters sent out July 6.
Surterra, which was one of the first businesses in the state allowed to dispense medical marijuana, operates eight locations across in the state and the only physical dispensaries in Miami Beach, North Port, Largo and Deltona. Its reach is outpaced only by Trulieve, which has dispensaries in 15 cities.
"Surterra will comply with all of the regulations set forth by the Department of Health in order to ensure that Floridians continue to receive the safest, most naturally derived treatments to enable health and well-being, as recommended by a doctor," said company spokeswoman Kim Hawkes in a statement. "We are going above and beyond simply ensuring good manufacturing practices and are pursuing American's For Safe Access' [ASA] Patient Focused Certification Program, which is a standard that is superior to what is currently required by Florida statute."
It was unclear if Surterra intended to inform customers of the processing ban — a representative at the company's call center indicated he was unaware of the halt on processing and that employees in the center had received no guidance on how to respond to questions about the pending inspections.
The inspection requirement, which was part of the Legislature's implementing bill broadly authorizing medical marijuana last year, went unnoticed or ignored by some businesses because they misconstrued it as part of the statute's guidelines on edible medical marijuana. The Department of Health has still not cemented rules pertaining to edible forms.
Earlier this month, the state indicated its intent to enforce the provision that any business complete the certification within the first year of receiving its license or stop operating its processing facilities immediately. Another center — Gainesville-based The Green Solution — was forced to stop processing products earlier in July until it could complete the required inspections. The company, which does not have dispensing locations but delivers its products, said it expects to finish and submit that documentation by the end of the month.
Five centers, including Trulieve, GrowHealthy, Curaleaf, Knox Medical and Liberty Health Sciences, submitted their inspection documentation before their respective 12-month deadlines. Two more centers — Plants of Ruskin, also known as Altmed, and 3 Boys Farm — must submit papers at the end of the month, and Columbia Care Florida and Treadwell Nursery reach their 12-month deadline Aug. 9. Treadwell and 3 Boys Farm also only have cultivation authorization and do not yet have dispensing locations, according to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
The food safety inspections are about more than edibles, said George Scorsis, CEO for Liberty Health Sciences, which submitted its inspection documentation on time.
"The entire state is offering ointments, encapsulated products, many solutions that people can take orally," he said. "It's a much bigger aspect than just edibles … That is what separates us from the illicit market, having these standards."
Surterra's temporary halt on processing coincides with major moves by the Department of Health on Friday to grant another medical marijuana treatment center license to Nature's Way, a Miami nursery, and begin the process of adding four additional licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana.