After Niki Winemiller injured her neck in a car crash, she wasn’t interested in opiods for the pain. And she grew tired of devouring ibuprofen.
Eight months ago, she chose medical marijuana and, with her doctor’s help, started treating her pain in a different way.
It works, said Winemiller, 36, of Big Pine Key, as she legally purchased smokable cannabis-based oil Thursday at the Florida Keys’ first cannabis shop.
“I’d rather come to a store and deal with a person,” Winemiller said.
The cannabis dispensary in the Keys opened quietly a couple of months ago in Key West, and two other companies have plans to follow.
Surterra Wellness opened its doors to clients, would-be patients and well-wishers with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at its shop at 3126 Flagler Ave. in a strip mall called Habana Plaza that formerly housed Key West City Hall.
Surterra, headquartered in Atlanta, had a soft opening Feb. 25 in Key West, but on Thursday held what it called a grand opening.
Before Surterra, Keys patients with a medical-marijuana identification card like Winemiller relied solely on delivery services to obtain cannabis, which they may still opt for. Now, however, there’s a brick-and-mortar store to visit.
“There is no medical cannabis dispensing location in Monroe County except for ours now,” said Kim Hawks, the company’s senior manager for government relations and public affairs. “That’s very important to patients who might not be familiar with cannabis. It’s important for them to come in get familiarized with products, learn more in an intimate setting.”
Thursday marked the company’s 22nd opening in the state. Surterra says it will have 25 locations statewide by mid-summer.
“We’re going to evaluate supply and demand and try to make sure we’re in every corner of the state,” Hawks said.
Two other cannabis companies say they will open in Key West soon.
Medmen has obtained a business tax receipt to operate at 130 Duval St., according to city officials. Trulieve, which is also a state Department of Health-authorized medical marijuana treatment facility operator, planned for 400 Duval St., has also shown interest but has not submitted an application for a business tax receipt as required by the city.
Surterra markets itself as a friendly company. A kitchen is set up in the center of its locations. People can wander in and ask questions —— even if they don’t have the medical-marijuana card.
They call their workers “wellness coordinators,” not “bud-tenders,” as other dispensaries do. And you won’t be shown the door for asking about legal cannabis without the proper paperwork to obtain it legally.
“We don’t turn people away at our doors if they don’t have a medical-marijuana ID card,” Hawks said. “We use them more as educational centers as well as dispensing cannabis. That’s unique to us.”