FL: Sarasota County Approves First Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Photo Credit: Thomas Bender

Cannabis is coming to the county after the Sarasota County commission on Tuesday approved plans for its first medical marijuana dispensary.

The County Commission voted 4-1 to allow Trulieve to open a medical marijuana dispensary in a 4,800-square-foot freestanding building in the Venice Pines Shopping Plaza on Jacaranda Boulevard — making it the first approved dispensary in unincorporated county. Commissioner Mike Moran cast the dissenting vote.

Commission Chairwoman Nancy Detert admitted she was initially skeptical of medical marijuana until she realized how much it helps people afflicted with debilitating diseases. Her sister has suffered from chronic pain since childhood because of a medical condition, and clinical cannabis has helped alleviate the pain, Detert said.

“She could not walk to the bus stop. She could not attend a public school. (She) has had a life of real pain, and this helps her,” said Detert, who choked up while speaking of her sister’s painful struggle. “And if it helps others and it’s available, we need to do it.”

Tallahassee-based Trulieve, which operates 14 dispensaries across the the state, assured the commission the facility will be tightly guarded and monitored around the clock by security cameras. Only patients with a prescription will be permitted past the lobby, and every door will be alarmed. Product will not be grown on the premises, and cash is picked up daily, company representatives said.

“There’s no concern about having too much product or cash at any given time,” Trulieve representative Victoria Walker told the commission.

Trulieve hopes to open the Venice location in four to six months, Walker said. The company sells medical marijuana in cream, oil, capsule and vapor forms to patients with prescriptions from state-approved physicians, according to the company’s website.

Trulieve has already been providing home deliveries to patients in Venice, making the county a natural spot for another physical dispensary location, company representatives have said.

“We have been delivering to the Venice area for quite some time … and (Venice) has been a very busy area for us in terms of patient need and physician activity,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers told the Herald-Tribune in October after submitting the site’s application. “So based on the fact that we do lots of deliveries to that area, we decided to move forward with a physical location. It makes sense for us to be in that location, and we want to give patients the option to come into a store to receive one-on-one feedback and education.”

The commission on Wednesday will consider an application for a second dispensary. Sarasota-based AltMed has proposed a dispensary at Fruitville and Richardson roads. Both sites fall just outside the city limits of Sarasota and Venice, respectively — the municipalities have banned such establishments, for now — and were the first applications made under the county’s special exception process for reviewing dispensaries since voters overwhelmingly approved expanding medical marijuana under Amendment 2 in 2016.