A medical marijuana treatment clinic has opened in Ponte Vedra Beach and is now accepting appointments for consultations.
Located in the Winn-Dixie plaza on Solana Road, the clinic is one of several that has opened in Florida after voters in November overwhelmingly approved Amendment Two, a constitutional amendment that expands the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating conditions. According to the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections website, it was approved by approximately 70 percent of voters in Ponte Vedra. The amendment officially went into effect Jan. 3.
Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC) of Florida opened the clinic in Ponte Vedra in January after opening its first facilities in Tallahassee and The Villages. MMTC’s Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder Dr. Joseph Dorn said the clinic is solely providing patients with consultations to determine if they are eligible.
“It’s just a physician’s office,” said Dorn, who has 20 years of medical practice in general medicine, having spent much of the past 12 years as a hospice and palliative medicine physician. “We don’t have product.”
When deciding where to open offices, Dorn said MMTC analyzed the state’s demographics and identified areas with high populations, and Ponte Vedra was one of them.
Dorn also said they found a property owner in Ponte Vedra that was receptive to renting space to his organization, which he said is not always the case.
“Not everybody wants to have anything to do with medical marijuana, even close by,” said Dorn, who is renting space from the owner of A1A Pharmacy. “When you find someone like that, it’s refreshing, and we foster those relationships.”
Dorn said MMTC also opened an office in the Tampa Bay area this week and plans to open additional offices on the east coast of Florida over the next four to six weeks.
Amendment Two enables physicians to order medical marijuana for patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). The amendment also gives physicians the discretion to qualify patients for medical marijuana after determining that they have some other debilitating medical condition that is similar to those explicitly listed.
Lynnette Horwath, program coordinator for PACT Prevention Coalition, said this is when the situation starts to get dangerous.
“You start to get to the point where the physician is making a determination of what qualifies, of what’s a debilitating condition,” said Horwath, whose organization focuses on preventing and reducing underage substance abuse in St. Johns County. “It just seems to be the kind of thing that opens the door for a lot of people to be able to get a card for medical marijuana that don’t really need it. It’s going to be very hard to control.”
Patti Greenough, CEO of Epic Behavioral Health, added that a consequence of the amendment is how it could potentially skew the thinking of adolescent marijuana users.
“They see it as a medicine or that’s it okay to use, when in fact research shows that young people age 18 and younger who use marijuana and abuse it are very at risk for potential problems in their life,” said Greenough, whose organization assists individuals and families impacted by substance abuse and related co-occurring disorders.
According to Dorn, the medical marijuana industry is tightly regulated and the law is cumbersome because it requires a patient to establish a three-month relationship with a physician or have an established three-month relationship before the product can be ordered.
Once a patient is deemed qualified and has waited three months, Dorn enters the patient’s information into a computerized system called the Compassionate Use Registry, which is regulated by the Department of Health. The patient can then go to any dispensary to pick up the order. Dorn said there is a dispensary in the Jacksonville area, adding that he expects two or three more to open within the next three months.
Physicians must complete an eight-hour course and exam every two years to order medical marijuana, Dorn said, adding that they must have a full medical license and be in good standing with the state of Florida.
There is still uncertainty, however, concerning certain elements of the amendment’s regulation and implementation. The new law requires the Department of Health to set regulations for the issuance of identification cards, qualifications and standards of caregivers and rules for registration of medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of the amendment’s enactment in January. Dorn said the state then has three months to implement the rules. Dorn doesn’t expect to have total clarity until September.
Dorn previously served as the medical director of Surterra Therapeutics, which is one of the seven medical marijuana dispensary organizations approved by the Department of Health. With hopes of returning to private practice, he resigned Nov. 8. State law prohibits medical directors of dispensing organizations from ordering medical marijuana for patients. He officially started with MMTC Nov. 10.
Just two years ago, Dorn said he was against the use of medical marijuana because he didn’t know much about it. After providing care for terminally ill patients using traditional medications, which he said were often less effective, he was forced to consider alternative treatments, most notably cannabis-derived products.
“My approach is general improvement in the quality of life,” said Dorn. “It’s making people feel better. It’s not addictive, and it can’t kill anybody. It’s a different alternative.”