JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first medical marijuana store in the region has opened its doors to the public on Wednesday on Beach Boulevard.
Folks who use medical marijuana told First Coast News that medical marijuana changed their lives and said having a physical location to buy it will make their lives significantly easier.
"I used to take Vicodin and Fentanyl and all kinds of crazy drugs," Rosemary McKinley of Jacksonville explained at the opening of a Trulieve store, located just east of University Boulevard South.
McKinley spoke of the radiation treatment she has received for a neck tumor that had necessitated the powerful aforementioned prescriptions. She said that everything changed for the better when she changed her strategy to marijuana last November.
"Since using the medical cannabis, I've been able to gain weight," she said. "I've been able to gain 15 pounds, which took me a couple years. After radiation it was a really, really hard time for me. Being able to work out, able to get out of bed, being able to eat. All of those things really contribute to your overall health. So, that's what I've experienced from it."
She said marijuana has helped her be much more lucid than those other drugs.
"I don't personally feel like I really get high from it," she said.
She was indeed excited, not euphoric, about the store's opening. Until now, McKinley said she would have to take time off from work in order to be at home to receive a scheduled delivery.
"Well, it's nice that I don't have to pay the delivery fees," she said, pointing to one benefit of being able to pick up her prescription at a physical location. "Or, wait at home. You know, I can just come here like a regular pharmacy."
Olivia Walker of Trulieve was also on hand at the grand opening. She said it's the eighth store the company has opened in Florida less than a year since opening the first.
"This is a huge piece," Walker said, "Yeah, we were doing deliveries here [in Jacksonville] every day of the week."
Walker asserted that Wednesday's opening puts a medical marijuana storefront within a two-hour drive of every part of Florida.
"Before today, probably between Edgewater, which is south on the east coast, and then Tallahassee," she said, speculating off-the-cuff about the nearest locations to Jacksonville until now.
For those concerned about security issues at such a business, Walker also highlighted that the store doesn't carry raw marijuana product, but rather applications such as vaporizers, capsules, topical creams and ingestible oils.
"We have so many processes in place to prevent any type of incident [like a break-in] and that's the most important piece," she said.
The company said it offers veterans a 10 percent discount at each of its locations.
"We'll always continue to offer that," Walker insisted. "We know it's a huge population here in Florida, PTSD being a qualifying condition is a lot of the patients that we see."
Like McKinley, another patient, R.C. Wills, also of Jacksonville, said buying at a local store instead of online will help him.
"THC really helps with my back pain because I've got five degenerated discs, and with all the drugs they had me on I felt like a zombie all the time," he said.
"I get more of relief from pain than I do get stoned, if that's the word you're looking for," Wills said with a laugh.
Wills said that for him, marijuana isn't a cost saving for him.
"It's a tad more expensive than the drugs I was on, but I feel better," he said, pointing out that he was taking eight separate drugs in all before he replaced them with medical marijuana. "You know, I don't feel like I'm in a drunk stupor all the time."
Despite the non-savings for him, Wills said he looks forward to having a store nearby most because it's much easier to return unopened products at a store than via the Internet.
"Buy something delivered and you don't like it, you're kind of stuck with it until it's over, if you know what I mean," he said.
Trulieve said it plans to open its next store in St. Petersburg next week, followed by unscheduled openings in Bradenton and hopefully Orlando.
For a list of doctors who prescribe medical marijuana, click here to go to the Trulieve site.