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New joint in Bradenton signifies how our society adapts to change

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

AltMed MUV Director of Corporate Affairs Todd Beckwith discusses the new store in East County.
AltMed MUV Director of Corporate Affairs Todd Beckwith discusses the new store in East County.
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It's another case of how our world changes, and how we adapt.

I'll start with a story from my friend, whose plight represented a lot of households in the early 1970s when the Marlboro Man was riding away into the sunset.

Jeff, then a teen, decided he would try a cigarette since his friends were partaking. His father, though, interrupted the plan by finding the cigarette in my friend's bedroom.

Jeff wasn't sure what the punishment would be that evening when he arrived at the dinner table, but he was surprised when he saw a pack of cigarettes in front of his seat. His father told him he didn't need to sneak around to smoke. He could light up right there in front of the family ... and smoke the whole pack.

He puffed, and coughed, and wheezed, until he ran to the bathroom to get sick. His father had made his point.

Not everyone viewed smoking as a plague, though, and that caused friction between the "ban smoking" folks and those who wanted the government to stop telling them how to live healthy lives. How did we adapt? You can still smoke, but you can't do it next to me in a public place.

Now I know what you are thinking, that I'm about to launch into the mask or no-mask controversy. But, no, I was wearing a mask when I showed up June 29 at the grand opening of the AltMed MUV (medical cannabis dispensary) at 8465 Heritage Green Way, just off State Road 64 in East County.

Since I've lived a little, I experienced the days where marijuana was considered a gateway drug that would have you shooting up heroin between your toes in short order. If you consider the wrath of Jeff's dad about cigarettes, and multiple that by 100, you've got a clear picture of my own U.S. Marine dad's contempt for pot.

A joint found on the floor of my bedroom would have resulted in a haystack of marijuana, ignited by a blow torch. I would have had to inhale the resulting smoke until my eyes rolled back in my head. Then I would have been forced to eat 17 of my grandmother's brownies.

Suffice to say, living in America, I never expected to drive up to a cannabis store, right down the street from the Dairy Queen. But there I was.

It was AltMed MUV's 23rd dispensary in Florida with many more on the way. It's what the people want.

Nationwide, this is not a new story. Thirty-three states have approved medical marijuana programs. In Florida, 350,000 people have signed up and been given doctor's approval to buy cannabis products. Another 3,000 to 4,000 are approved each week according to Florida Department of Health numbers.

Under federal law, cannabis use continues to be a crime.

Because of that federal designation, AltMed MUV Director of Corporate Affairs Todd Beckwith said his company pays an "eight to 10 times higher tax rate" than most companies. Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code forbids businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary business expenses from gross income associated with the “trafficking” of Schedule I or II substances, as defined by the Controlled Substances Act.

That hasn't slowed the company down, or its competitors.

"Southwest Florida is our strongest area," Beckwith said. "The certified physicians here are our gatekeepers. Of course, AltMed started in Sarasota. We live here and we have deep roots.

"Part of our mission is to come out of the shadows and into the spotlight. We are very professional. You might be surprised to find that someone in your school, your church, your neighborhood uses medical cannabis."

The setup for the AltMed MUV is a desk in front where customers/patients are checked through a state database to make sure they are approved for the product and how much they can purchase. There is a private counsel room to discuss the 75 products and what might work best. Then a line of employees serves up the order from behind plexiglass. The store employs 12 workers.

Beckwith said the Sarasota store at 5045 Fruitville Road is AltMed MUV's highest performing store and most stores average "several hundred" customers a day. He said the average customer age is in the mid-50s. None of the products are covered by insurance.

I walked back to my car after doing the interview. One of the store's customers was getting out of his car, and he passed me as he walked up to join the line of 50 people waiting for the doors to open. A cloud of marijuana perfume hit me as he passed, filling my head even though I was wearing ... a mask.

Once again, it's time to adapt.



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