knox greenhouse cannabis dispensary

By mid-January 2017, medical cannabis will be growing in these greenhouses, now under construction at Knox Medical. / J.D. Vivian

In the video, Bruce Knox, co-founder and chief operations officer of Knox Medical, a cannabis dispensary, in Winter Garden, speaks to the media during a tour of the company’s new facility. Knox Medical, one of six nurseries in Florida with a license to grow and dispense cannabis for medicinal purposes, opened its doors to journalists on Dec. 7. In the background, at left, in a white lab coat, is Alex Karol, lead chemical engineer.

Knox Medical’s soon-to-open cannabis processing facility features lots of stark white — on the ceilings, walls and doors. Only the stainless-steel sinks and the shiny epoxy floor — and, of course, the array of machines used to produce the medical cannabis — break the pattern.

“The people of Florida have spoken, and they want this,” said Bruce Knox, whose family founded Knox Nursery in Winter Garden in 1962. He now serves as chief operating officer of Knox Medical, which he co-founded with Jose Hidalgo; it’s on the same site as Knox Nursery.

On Dec. 7, Knox Medical invited journalists to tour the facility. Earlier in the week, the company had received approval from the Florida Department of Health to begin dispensing cannabis to patients. The company began delivering products to patients on Friday, Dec. 9.

Feels like “pioneer”

Alex Karol is an Orlando resident who serves as Knox Medical’s lead chemical engineer. He helped to design the new facility.

“I feel like a pioneer,” he said, enthusiastically, in an interview during the tour. “Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that I’m a part of this important venture.”

The Dec. 7, tour will be the only one. “Once we start processing our products here, we can’t risk contamination of the cannabis,” explained Hidalgo, who serves as Knox Medical’s chief executive officer.

Most of the rooms, such as the Grinding and Drying rooms, are virtually empty, awaiting the arrival of the fresh cannabis. The Extraction and the Lab rooms, however, feature a variety of equipment to ensure strict quality control.

co2-super-critical-extractor-cannabis dispensary

This carbon-dioxide supercritical extractor, in the Extraction Room, controls the temperature and pressure on fresh cannabis to ensure that the desired compound is produced.

Knox Medical has been growing low-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) cannabis as well as full-strength medical cannabis “since the beginning of this year,” said Hidalgo. “But the full-strength is only for people who are terminally ill.”

Knox Medical is currently producing its products at another facility until the new one opens.

Education is key

During the two-hour tour, Knox and Hidalgo stressed that educating people about cannabis is important. Low-THC cannabis does not provide the “high” that medical cannabis does. Under Florida law, full-strength medical cannabis can be legally dispensed only to patients with less than 12 months to live.

The constitutional amendment that Florida voters approved on Nov. 8 will take effect Jan. 3, 2017. Far more patients will be able to receive the medication after that from a cannabis dispensary.

“We’re glad Amendment 2 passed. People are suffering, and they need this medicine,” Hidalgo said.