Over the past few years, the legalization of medical marijuana has become a huge voting issue in many states. Its popularity amongst patients who prefer a more holistic and non-habit forming approach to pain relief has increased with every passing year medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states across the country including the state of Pennsylvania.
Right now, more than 80,000 patients have registered to participate in the medical marijuana program in the state of Pennsylvania since it’s legalization went into effect in 2017, with over 50,000 of those patients receiving their medical marijuana ID cards as a result. In turn, over 700 physicians have recognized this new shift and completed the training to become certified practitioners.
We caught up with Ryan H. Smith the COO of the Colorado-based medical marijuana dispensary, CURE, that recently opened its first dispensary in Philadelphia to find out everything we need to know about the medical marijuana industry.
A peek inside the medical marijuana industry
Photo: Getty Images
What are some misconceptions or things that you feel people are in the dark about when it comes to medical marijuana dispensaries?
The feeling inside the store is much more of a feeling of an Apple Store than it is than a feeling of what somebody might think of a dispensary. We had a question early on that was “are people going to be in tie-dye shirts and is there going to be smoke coming out of the door?” The funny thing is, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our facilities are highly regulated by the Department of Health in Pennsylvania. We do not allow consumption on site. Every person that shops there has to go through and visit a doctor to receive a medical marijuana card from the Department of Health. We check ID. There’s a tremendous amount of security involved for our patients and for our employees. The irony is that we’ve had an incredibly positive response in all of the communities that we’ve opened in from local community leaders and police because of the level of compliance that we lead with.
You mentioned presenting your dispensary like an Apple Store. Is that a way of stripping away the negative stigmas that may be associated with medical marijuana?
There are a lot of stigmas historically over the last 40 years or so — or even the last 100 years — that you can go back to see why Marijuana has been demonized. There’s a whole bunch of historical reasons for that. Really, what we’re doing is presenting medicine in a way that patients can find the right product for them in the right form at the right dosage. Every one of our dispensaries in Pennsylvania has a pharmacist on site at all times. So someone who is interested can come in once they’ve received their medical marijuana card and meet with a pharmacist. Typically most people will schedule an appointment on our website and meet with that pharmacist to find out the frequency to which they should medicate.
What kind of training do you expect your employees to have before they can work the counter?
Out of all of our employees — some have come with previous experience, a number have come without. What we do is put our employees through a full training program to understand how we operate, how we follow the regulations, best ways to serve patients, and the best forms of medication. Almost all of them have visited grow processors in Pennsylvania to actually see the product grown and processed and turned into the forms that can be sold. They go through a really rigorous training program internally. Almost exclusively, we’ve received incredibly positive feedback from our patients about experiences that they’ve had. The way they felt their concerns were listened to and how we’ve tried to find the right medicines for them.
Has the way that the industry has gravitated towards vaping and edibles helped to change the way people view using marijuana?
That’s an interesting question because there’s so much change happening right now in the industry and it’s happening at warp speed. What you’re seeing is a lot of companies will get bigger and go public and buy out different operations in different states. In Pennsylvania, in particular, there was an article that was just released that there are over 80 thousand people who registered for the medical marijuana card and over 50 thousand card holding patients in Pennsylvania. That’s essentially in a year. The first patients registered a year ago. It’s incredible growth in Pennsylvania.
What’s kind of interesting in Pennsylvania, is that originally only processed forms of marijuana were available. So flower or the dry leaf form of medical marijuana was not permissible in Pennsylvania until August of this year. Edibles are still not allowed. We do sell pills and tinctures. But when you think of other states that might have a candy bar, a drink or a form like often times people see them in chocolate bars or gummies, those kinds of things. Those are not permissible in Pennsylvania at this time.
The idea is that there are different forms for different people. The different forms have different effects and different amounts of time that the effect will last. So for example, vaporizing or smoking it has an incredibly fast onset time. 10 seconds, maybe, and it will last 60 to 90 minutes. Whereas if you took a tincture or pill form, the onset time might not be for 60 to 90 minutes but it could last 7 to 8 hours. So really depending on the patient’s condition, we work with them to understand what that right amount is.
As the legalization of medical marijuana starts to make its way onto more voting ballots in different states, what would be your selling point in favor of it for people who may be skeptical to support it?
I would say there are a couple of points. The first one is, in particular in Pennsylvania, all of the dispensaries and grow processors in the entire state are highly regulated by the Department of Health. We work very closely with them to make sure this is a tightly regulated program. Think of it much more as a pharmacy than as a shop that you might see. How many people have issues with their pharmacy? I think very few. That’s really the frame that most people should think of this as. You have to go to a doctor. You have to show ID and receive your medical marijuana card. Medical Marijuana or Marijuana is going to be in our communities. It’s been in our communities for thousands of years. What we’re doing is taking it out of the black market and trying to make it into a tested and tightly regulated program where patients can receive their medicine. Wouldn’t we all want a program that looks like that versus somebody buying it illegally or the money going to elicit sources or gangs? Wouldn’t we much rather have people pay taxes on it and be able to receive their medicine in a way that’s clean and tested in a safe environment?