Trulieve CEO Kim River discusses the process that led to the sale of the first edible medical marijuana in Tallahassee Wednesday.
At 4:02 p.m. Wednesday, Arnold Lawson bought TruGels gummy candies, and a new product line for Florida’s medical marijuana industry was launched.
The 54-year-old Lawson is among the 400,000 patients on the state’s Medical Marijuana Registry allowed to use cannabis to treat a variety of ailments.
He purchased blue raspberry flavored gelatin edibles at a Trulieve dispensary in Tallahassee to treat a degenerative disc disease that developed after working 20 years as a paramedic.
“You’re always looking for better relief,” said Lawson, who has been using medical marijuana since soon after it was legalized two and a half years ago. “I’m thinking this will be nice and mellow on my stomach and just a new route to help with the problems we all live with.”
Lawson said he took 60 milligrams of Percoset every day for 12 years.
“Now I take zero all because of Trulieve,” he said.
The sale came four years after Florida voters voted to legalize medical marijuana, and one week after the Florida Department of Health published emergency rules for edible products.
Officials said the regulations were delayed until now because Florida’s medical marijuana industry started from scratch in 2017 after Gov. Rick Scott signed implementing legislation.
At the time, the state lacked a reliable testing regiment for the amount of THC, a mind-altering cannabinoid, and CBD, the medicinal cannabinoid, in the edible products.
Upon approval from DOH, Florida dispensaries are allowed to offer five different kinds of edible products made with marijuana. The rules prohibit edibles from coming in bright colors or resembling commercially available candy to prevent children from mistaking the marijuana-laced product with candy.
TruGels are the first product DOH approved.
Other items created by Florida dispensaries that will be permitted upon DOH signing off on packaging, cannabinoid levels and appearance include lozenges, baked goods, chocolates and powders for drinks.
Trulieve got word on Wednesday morning that its gummy-like edible passed state inspection and within hours Lawson walked up to the counter and bought Florida’s first legal edible marijuana product.
For Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, it was another first for a company that operates 57 dispensaries statewide. Trulieve was awarded the state’s first medical marijuana license, was first to be allowed to grow and harvest the plant, and the first to open a dispensary.
“It’s been a long time coming, y’all,” Rivers said before the sale Wednesday at the same SE Capital Circle Trulieve dispensary where the state’s first smokable medical marijuana product was sold in March of 2019. “It’s just about providing different forms of relief to our patients.”
Trulieve is the state’s largest medical marijuana provider, with 57 dispensaries statewide, and accounts for more than 50% of the legal marijuana sold in the state. While the state worked on regulations for the sale of cannabis-infused products, Trulieve built a 10,000-square-foot commercial kitchen in Quincy.
The company has partnered with Binske, a Colorado company that bakes medical marijuana into chocolate, and granola bars, among other things.
It also has an agreement with Love Oven, another Colorado company that advertises a “premier” cannabutter and specializes in gourmet baked goods.
“We know the demand is there, as we have been hearing from our customers for some time now,” said Rivers.
It is unclear how the availability of edible products will affect sales of other products like flowers, oils and tinctures. But industry experts say the state’s 3-year-old medical marijuana industry appears to be quite healthy.
Emergency-care physician Dr. Barry Gordon, licensed to prescribe medical cannabis at his Compassionate Care Clinic in Venice, anticipates “a surge of new patients who’ve been sitting it out and waiting for edibles.” But he also cautions a learning curve is ahead for newcomers.
“Oral ingestion of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids has always been available in Florida in concentrate or pill form,” says Gordon. “Now, that pill is not edible, so to speak, because nobody’s going to chew a pill or enjoy it like a cookie or a brownie or a chewable.
“But interestingly enough, a pill can contain up to 50 milligrams of THC, whereas under the edible route, you’re only allowed a maximum dose of 10 milligrams.
“Let’s say you have a chocolate bar that’s capped at 200 milligrams divided up into 10 milligram squares,” says Gordon, a member of the Florida Agriculture Department’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. “That’s good in the sense that there’s a consistency for patients to understand how much they’re ingesting.
“But the issue really isn’t so much about dosing as it is about education. A dose for Willie Nelson probably won’t be the same as for a grandma trying it out for the first time. A new patient should probably be in the 5 to 10 milligram range at most, but also remember you’re talking about other healthy components like CBD and other cannabinoids that are non-intoxicating, so you want to keep an eye on that as well.”
Gordon says patients new to edibles should also be wary of “stacking.” Inhalation of smokables have more immediate effects than slow-acting edibles, which can take up to two hours to reach peak impact, depending on how much and what type of food you’ve previously eaten. Although overdosing on edibles isn’t lethal, “We don’t want anybody to suffer an anxiety reaction or have other negative experiences from edibles you might not necessarily see with the inhaled product.”
The Marijuana Business Factbook projects that medical cannabis sales in Florida will hit $775 million to $950 million this year, compared with $475 million to $575 million in 2019.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
Herald-Tribune senior reporter Billy Cox contributed to this story.
Tallahassee Democrat photojournalist Tori Lynn Schneider contributed reporting.
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