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Marijuana as medicine: Medical cannabis in Tampa Bay




Medical marijuana has found increasing social and legal acceptance across the country. At this point, 32 (of 50) states have legalized medical marijuana.

The city of St. Petersburg provides an interesting case study of a market for medical cannabis. St. Pete is a city with a very clear age gap between an elderly population of retirees and a conspicuous cohort of young, urban, millennial professionals. St. Pete’s progressive values have made it a welcoming market for medical cannabis dispensaries.

Since Florida Amendment 2 passed in 2016, thereby legalizing medical marijuana, the medical marijuana industry has taken off in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay and statewide.

“Tampa Bay is a very important region for the industry,” said Scott Klenet, public relations representative at Knox Medical, a medical marijuana dispensary with a location in St. Pete and plans to open more locations in Clearwater and Tampa proper in the near future.

Klenet said that 200,000 Floridians are registered through the Department of Health’s medical marijuana registry. About 1,500 physicians are legally permitted to recommend cannabis to their patients.

Despite such progress, there are some obstacles that remain to be overcome; namely, stigma.

Andrew Squires, assistant store manager of Liberty Health Sciences’ St. Petersburg location, said that because of the societal stigmatization of medical cannabis, “Places don’t want us in their plazas … They don’t want their business to be known as, ‘Oh, they’re right next to the marijuana place.'”

Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

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The lobby of St. Petersburg's Trulieve location. Trulieve is a medical cannabis dispensary. (All photos by Graham Colton.)

Squires said that not only does the stigma harm dispensaries, but even after dispensaries have overcome the stigma to open a location, physicians are less likely to prescribe cannabis because of the stigma, and prospective patients are less likely to see a physician for a prescription because of the stigma.

Apart from the stigma, there’s the matter of who actually goes to the dispensaries. Klenet said that the average age of medical marijuana patients in Tampa Bay is 58 years old. The way Squires sees it, dispensaries attract an older crowd not only because older people go to the doctor (to get a prescription) much more often than millennials, but also because younger people are more active players in the black market for illegal, recreational marijuana.

“[Millennials] don’t go to the doctor,” Squires said. “So they don’t know health issues or health conditions and they’re also not informed that medical marijuana could help with all of this stuff.”

Squires said that older folks are turning to medical cannabis as a way to wean themselves off of prescription medication, the overprescription of which has led to addiction, overdoses and other well-documented negative effects.

State senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican and proponent of medical marijuana, recognizes how the stigma hinders the normalization and mainstream acceptance of medical marijuana.

“I think there’s people who generally believe that medical marijuana is not a medical product, or it shouldn’t be considered medicine,” he said. “But I think there’s a growing body of research that counters that.”

Brandes is focused on research into and access to medical cannabis, the latter of which is best supported by a horizontal business structure in the medical cannabis market, he said. Such a structure opens the market up to small businesses and other organizations with less capital, allowing them to profit from the growth of the market.

An amendment to the Florida Constitution is being proposed for 2020. If passed, the amendment – tentatively named the “Florida Cannabis Act” – would “regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol to establish age, licensing and other restrictions.”

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