The new Curaleaf Dispensary, located at 35388 U.S. 19 N. in Palm Harbor, is the first medical marijuana dispensary to provide drive-thru service in the state of Florida.

PALM HARBOR – The first drive-thru medical marijuana dispensary in the state of Florida opened recently, as Miami-based Curaleaf held a grand opening ceremony at its newest facility in Palm Harbor on June 19.

The dispensary, located in a former bank at 35388 U.S. 19 N., is being touted as the first of its kind in the state following the passage of Amendment 2, known as the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, in November 2016.

According to company officials, the purpose of the drive-thru dispensary is, obviously, convenience.

“To have the opportunity for a drive-thru, it’s an added value for people who have debilitating conditions and it takes them a long time to walk to and from their vehicle,” Michelle Terrell, Curaleaf’s director of sales and marketing, said. “We’re all about innovative ideas to serve our patients, and we love that we’re able to do that here in Palm Harbor.”

Terrell explained Curaleaf is licensed to cultivate, process and dispense premium-quality medical marijuana, and the company plans to open 18 dispensaries in the state by the end of this year and 30 by the conclusion of 2019. “It’s a growing market – pun intended! – that’s providing a much, much needed service,” she said.

In order to obtain cannabis-based therapeutic products such as vaporizer pens, capsules, oils and concentrates at the Curaleaf Dispensary, Terrell said patients must be on the Medical Marijuana Use Registry (MMUR) and possess a medical marijuana identification card and number.

“We have a medical director on staff, and we work very closely with a lot of local doctors in the area,” she said. “Once you see a physician and he says you have one of the 10 qualifying conditions, which include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, or similar ‘like-kind’ conditions, they will log you into the MMUR. It usually takes 10-18 days to receive your card, and then you can come to the dispensary.”

Terrell said initial visits to the dispensary feature consultations and education sessions with Curaleaf staff to determine the best course of treatment for each patient, and after their first visit, they are able to utilize the drive-thru feature. The Palm Harbor dispensary also will offer same-day and next-day delivery service.

Although it had been open to the public for several days prior as part of a soft opening launch, the Curaleaf dispensary’s grand opening brought a flurry of activity to the plaza at the southwest corner of U.S. 19 and Alderman Road. Some visitors looking to be buzzed in the front door were card-carrying, medical cannabis seeking customers, while others were there to learn more about the facility, including Chaux Wright, who came from Dunedin to check the place out.

“This is my first time seeing the setup of a place like this, and it seems very medicinal,” she said. “I think if more people saw it, they would understand, and it would end a lot of the stereotypes. It’s very clinical. I think it belongs in the medical community.”

Lutz resident Lori Roscoe didn’t make the drive to Palm Harbor for a casual visit; the 60-year-old suffers from glaucoma and she is hoping to find relief through medical cannabis-based products.

“I just like the idea of a natural product that doesn’t have side effects,” said Roscoe, who received her medical marijuana card this week. “It just makes sense for a lot of ailments.”

Despite their varied reasons for being there, both Wright and Roscoe said they believe it’s time to drop the stigma associated with medical marijuana and help put the nation’s opioid crisis in the rearview mirror.

“I support the cause, because I’ve seen what opioid addiction can do … and I’ve researched and seen firsthand how medical marijuana can help people,” Wright said. “People now can see what it can do, and it’s better than a lot of pills. Personally, I think people are open to the idea of seeing what it can do for them.”

Roscoe concurred. “I wish people would try this instead of opiates,” she said. “The thing I noticed is people don’t know about it. Education is the key.”

On that point, Curaleaf’s Terrell wholeheartedly agreed.

“We invite them in,” she said when asked how they combat the fear, stigma and questions surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries. “We’ve knocked on all our neighbors’ doors in the plaza and explained what we are about, cleared up any problems, and we have been welcomed with open arms. It’s all about education and community outreach.