Saturday, April 21, 2018
Health

Cannabis dispensary gets state approval, will open Tampa location

TAMPA — A new wellness center is scheduled to open this month near a number of hospitals around the University of South Florida.

It will sell cannabis.

Following approval Wednesday from the state Health Department, Surterra Therapeutics can proceed in the next week with plans to start home deliveries of a strain of medical marijuana low in THC, the chemical that causes a euphoric high. The company also can open a wellness center this month near USF.

The approval from the state was "a long time coming," said Monica Russell, a Surterra spokeswoman.

The 2014 law stipulating what products can be offered was designed to give patients with seizures and cancer the choice of using THC as a treatment.

Surterra has plans to sell higher-grade THC products in the future to a small segment of the population — terminally ill patients with a year or less to live — following a state law passed this year.

The Atlanta-based company hopes its location at 2554 E Fowler Ave. becomes a gathering place for families to make important health care decisions, Russell said. She likened its atmosphere to a kitchen table, saying it will be a stark contrast to dispensaries in states such as like Colorado and California.

Colorado law allows for retail marijuana use by people 21 or older and for those with debilitating health conditions to use it for medical reasons.

Qualifying patients can use medical marijuana in California, and voters there could legalize recreational use this November.

In Tampa, Russell said, "You won't see any marijuana leaves or Bob Marley posters."

From a center in Tallahassee, Surterra can deliver its products — including lotions, patches and pills — throughout the state, she said. Customers can buy supplies meant to last up to 45 days.

Without offering specific prices, Russell said Surterra's products will be comparable to those sold at dispensaries elsewhere.

"From the very beginning, we've always wanted to help patients in the state as best as we could," Russell said, "and that's finally coming to fruition."

One Tampa-based medical marijuana advocate, Moriah Barnhart, called Surterra's authorization "a huge step in the right direction."

Barnhart's 5-year-old daughter, Dahlia, has taken cannabis oil for most of the past three years to treat her aggressive brain cancer. It's worked "tremendously," Barnhart said.

For the many families in the Tampa Bay area who could use cannabis-based treatments, Barnhart said, Surterra will offer much-needed help.

"We're still in the fight that seems like a never-ending battle, but we're taking a moment to reflect and celebrate how far we've come," she said. "We really do need to just appreciate how far we've come."

Surterra, whose cultivation partner is Homestead-based Alpha Foliage, is one of six state-approved dispensing organizations, according to the state Health Department's website.

There are 90 physicians statewide as of Friday who have completed the education needed to recommend cannabis to patients, according to the department. Eight are in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Florida voters this fall could approve expanded use of full-strength medical marijuana. Surterra has plans to meet potential growth in Florida's medical marijuana industry, Russell said.

"Our focus is on the medical component of cannabis," she said, "but we certainly support access to more patients."

Contact Samuel Howard at [email protected] or (813) 226-3373. Follow @SamuelHHoward.

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