JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The second medical-marijuana dispensary in Duval County officially opened its doors and began offering products to patients in Northeast Florida this week.
Following closely on the heels of Tallahassee-based medical marijuana treatment center Trulieve, which launched the first Jacksonville dispensary last month, Knox Medical opened its doors to registered patients on Tuesday.
The dispensary is located at 9901 San Jose Blvd., between a walk-in marijuana clinic that specializes in registering patients and a popular smoothie franchise.
"It's a patient-centered culture that we have here," said Jose Hidalgo, CEO and Co-founder of Knox Medical. "All we want to make sure is that they [patients] receive the absolute best care, the absolute best medicine, with the absolute best people."
Hidalgo said he believes the company is beginning to develop a reputation for these values throughout the state and hopes the patients in Jacksonville recognize this.
"Big day for us, today," Hidalgo said. "I'm sure Bruce shares the same feelings."
Bruce Knox, co-founder and COO of Knox Medical, said Jacksonville has been one of the company's largest markets in terms of home delivery and the number of veterans in the area was a deciding factor in opening a dispensary here. The company is currently offering a 20 percent discount to all military veterans.
"Veterans are very important to us and yes, there are a lot of veterans in this market who are in need, dealing with PTSD and other medical conditions," Knox said.
To ensure the safety of patients and workers, security personnel will be kept on the premises of the facility at all times, according to Mark Batiesvsky, director of retail operations. Key card-access is required at all points of entry into the facility and the veranda is separated from the atrium, where all cannabis products are kept.
Due to the federal classification of marijuana, a majority of federally insured U.S. banks have refused to open accounts for cannabis businesses. Without access to credit and debit transactions, the marketplace has remained mostly cash-fueled and thus making dispensaries a prime target for potential robberies.
Knox Medical has distanced itself from some of this concern of having copious amounts of cash on hand at all times by banking with a private institution that supports debit transactions at all of Knox's dispensing locations.
"We are seeing about 50 percent of our business in cash and 50 percent in debit card transactions," Batiesvsky said. "A lot of patients still come with cash, but it does make it very convenient for our clients to be able to use their debit card."
Batiesvsky said there haven't been any issues with the banking situation in regards to federal government intervention and the company is exploring options to bring credit transactions online.
"We're like a pharmacy," said Paula Harrilal, executive vice president of sales for Knox Medical. "We're no different than a Walgreens, CVS or specialty pharmacy."
While the Florida Department of Health is busy issuing new licenses to approved applicants per Senate Bill 8-A, the statewide race to corner the market on brick and mortar dispensaries is on.
Trulieve currently leads the state in number of dispensaries with nine, while the new facility on Jacksonville's Southside is the fourth one for Knox Medical.
"We are so focused on what we can do currently, for us, it's about servicing our patients that we already have," said Knox in regards to competition in the marketplace. "We're not worried about new licensees coming in. We are worried about what we can do and what we can control."
Knox said the Winter Garden-based MMTC is committed to opening more dispensaries around the state, with immediate sights set on Lake Worth and St. Petersburg. Those locations are expected to open later this month, according to Knox.
The Senate bill effectively limits each MMTC to 25 dispensing facilities throughout the state. When the patient registry reaches 100,000 patients, the statewide maximum per MMTC will increase by five dispensaries.
Parameters have also been set on how many total dispensing facilities an MMTC can establish in each of the five regions. The number is calculated by taking the percentage of the total statewide population contained within that region and multiplying it by an MMTC’s statewide maximum, which is currently 25.
The bill, however, has made provisions for companies to purchase and sell unused dispensing facility slots in each region, essentially skirting the statewide maximum set per MMTC. Outside of advanced notice given to the DOH prior to the sale, there are no regulations governing this provision.
"Per section 381.986, the department is required to determine the number for each region," said Mara Gambineri, communication director for Florida Health. "We have not yet made this determination. The department remains committed to moving as quickly as possible to ensure the health and safety of patients and implement all requirements of the law."
With the opening of Knox's new location in Jacksonville, there are now a total of three marijuana dispensing facilities in the Northeast Region, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Suwannee and Union Counties.
Despite the opening of new brick and mortar dispensaries, the delivery of medical cannabis derivatives has remained a valuable business logistic for a lot of companies, including Knox Medical. Three of the original MMTCs have yet to even break ground on a physical dispensary, despite approval from the DOH last year.
"Delivery has been critical," Knox said. "It's been our primary method of dispensing product to this point."
There are 26,968 registered medical-marijuana patients in the State of Florida, per the most recent update from the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, dated July 27. Knox Medical has roughly 15 percent of that total market share, according to Harrillal.
"In this market, alone, we serve over 600 patients," Harrilal said. "So probably when you take a look at our competitors that are also here, we probably have somewhere around 4,000 patients already in the total Jacksonville area."