WINTER GARDEN, Fla. - Channel 9’s Lauren Seabrook got an inside look at one of the first Central Florida companies allowed to grow medical marijuana. Seabrook took a tour Wednesday at a Winter Garden facility, where Knox Medical will grow and dispense medical marijuana.
Knox is the fourth Florida organization to be allowed to distribute low-THC cannabis as medicine for patients suffering from a narrow list of conditions. A state constitutional amendment allowing full legalization of medical marijuana becomes effective in less than a month.
Amendment 2, approved by 71 percent of Florida voters on Election Day, takes effect on Jan. 3 and will allow higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments once lawmakers implement a new set of rules.
The state's Health Department gave Knox Medical authorization over the weekend. The organization, which has its cultivation and distribution facility in Winter Garden, said Tuesday that it expects to begin in-home delivery to patients by Friday.
"Patients will not be allowed to come to this location. Home delivery is our method of dispensing product at this point. Until our dispensaries get opened," President and owner of facility, Bruce Knox said.
"What we have here is a custom made, super critical CO2 extractor machine," said chemical engineer Alex Karol. "This facility is capable of handling all the tests set forth by the state in the most optimal manner possible."
The machines extract cannabis oil from the marijuana plant.
Karol walked Seabrook through the process of making medical marijuana.
"The people have spoken in this state and they want this," Knox said.
Knox's family opened the nursery in the 1960s, and he's been growing marijuana since the first of the year.
"For me, there is a personal side of this. I have two family members with epilepsy. So that is one of the reasons I wanted to go down this path to begin with," Knox said.
Knox hopes when people see the process and the packaging, medical marijuana will lose its stigma.
"Our commitment for the folks in Florida that have been waiting for this medicine to come so badly, this is a very, very exciting day for us today. Everything we've done is with the patient in mind," said Knox CEO Jose Hidalgo.
Watch video from the tour below, then scroll down to continue reading story:
The dispensaries under construction are in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Lake Worth and downtown Orlando.
Trulieve, which is operated by Hackney Nursery in Gadsden County, and Alpha Surterra in the Tampa Bay area received distribution authorization in late July. Modern Health Concepts, operated by Costa Nursery Farms in Miami-Dade County, was approved in early September. Two others are still awaiting distribution authorization.
The current law, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2014, allows non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said 208 physicians and 1,150 patients are currently in the state registry for ordering and using medical marijuana.
Under Amendment 2, the state Legislature has six months to revise current rules and must implement the new regulations within nine months.
Senate President Joe Negron has said that the Legislature should take the text of the amendment when the session begins in March and implement verbatim what the voters approved. However, Negron said it is too early to tell if the number of distributing organizations should be increased.
"We should do things in a very circumspect manner, given the potential for problems we have seen in other states," Negron said.
Knox's case is one example of why many derided the licensing process.
"A new space in medicine" - owner says this falls between pharmaceuticals and street pot. @WFTV— Lauren Seabrook (@LSeabrookWFTV) December 7, 2016
Knox received the highest score last year but then had a myriad of problems over the last 11 months. McCrory's Nursery, which finished second to Knox in the central region, claimed in a recent administrative hearing that Knox's delivery of a $5 million performance bond last December came after the deadline.
The Department of Health had questions in February about the funding of that performance bond and gave Knox 15 days to rectify it, which it did.
The Office of Compassionate Use, which oversees the medical marijuana industry in the state, issued a stern memo to Knox in September about its lack of construction of a cultivation facility. In another inspection a month later, Knox had made progress in construction.
There is a possibility that a seventh distributing organization could be added. Judge John Van Laningham of Florida's Division of Administrative Hearings said in an information order that the Department of Health did not follow its own process in awarding licenses. The department is waiting on the official recommended order in that case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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