- Jeff Ostrowski Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened Tuesday, and Steve Buchholz of Lake Worth was among the first customers.
Buchholz, 57, said he suffers from chronic knee pain stemming from a high school football injury 40 years ago.
“Every step I take every day is painful,” Buchholz said as he waited for Knox Medical’s new location in downtown Lake Worth to open.
Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications don’t work especially well and cause side effects, he said, but cannabis relieves the pain of his arthritis.
“I can still actually function,” Buchholz said.
As Florida’s budding cannabis industry takes root, Knox Medical’s Lake Worth dispensary is the first dispensary to open between Miami and Orlando. The store’s location reflects just how quickly marijuana has gone mainstream: It’s directly across the street from Lake Worth City Hall, and it occupies a high-traffic location in a former bank branch.
More than 50,000 Floridians had won permission to buy cannabis through the state’s medical marijuana program as of Nov. 8, and pot’s popularity has surprised the expectations of even Jose Hidalgo, chief executive of Miami-based Knox Medical.
“I always say the speed of cannabis is faster than the speed of light,” Hidalgo told reporters Tuesday as he showed off the new facility.
The white floors and postmodern lines at Knox Medical’s dispensary are reminiscent of an Apple store. It’s brightly lighted, and security cameras are everywhere.
For now, Knox Medical sells just eight products, although it plans to begin selling a ninth — a topical cream — next week. Its vape cartridges and liquid drops contain varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD, two of the active ingredients in cannabis.
Prices are 15 cents a milligram, so 300 milligrams of product cost $45, while 600 milligrams go for $90.
Cannabis isn’t covered by insurance, and Knox Medical accepts cash or debit cards but not credit cards. The federal prohibition on marijuana means credit card issuers aren’t keen on cannabis transactions.
Knox Medical is one of six companies that have won state permission to grow, process and sell medical marijuana. Seven more companies have been approved by state regulators and are setting up their businesses.
Launching a medical marijuana company in Florida requires steep startup costs, and Hidalgo said profitability remains far in the future. For now, he said, his focus is on patients with cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.
“We’re seeing a very sick population of patients,” he said. “It will bring you to tears just talking to them.”
At Knox Medical, customers must prove that they’re listed on Florida’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry to be allowed past the main entrance.
While Knox Medical is the first pot shop in Palm Beach County, a competing dispensary is expected to open at 1125 N. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, and cannabis stores also are planned in Broward County and Vero Beach.
While physicians remain skeptical of medical marijuana, more than 1,000 Florida doctors have taken a training course that allows them to recommend cannabis. Dr. Ahmed El-Haddad, a trauma surgeon in Palm Beach County, opened an office in West Palm Beach to certify patients for the state’s marijuana program.
El-Haddad said his interest in cannabis was sparked by seeing surgery patients grow addicted to painkillers.
“I’ve seen a lot of patients come out and get addicted to opiates,” El-Haddad said. “This is an amazing alternative.”
He charges $250 for a consultation. If a patient is approved for Florida’s cannabis registry, the Department of Health charges a $75 fee.