It’s medical marijuana’s time.
Maryland’s law has been passed, licenses have been granted, and growers and dispensaries have been established. Plenty of phone calls to those businesses (and other entities) by an inquiring media have been ignored and opening jitters abound.
And some new doors are just about open. Perhaps fairly close to your home.
If you live in Columbia’s Village of Dorsey’s Search, know that a dispensary is soon to open in the Crossroads Professional Building. Local serial investor Gina Dubbe and Dr. Leslie Apgar have entered the medical marijuana market by founding Greenhouse Wellness, which will be filling prescriptions via various administrations that deliver one (or more) of the nearly 100 cannabinoids in a cannabis plant to patients via pills, patches, oils and other methods.
Dubbe and Apgar are hoping that this approach will appeal to patients who need pain relief, but are looking to administer the drug in what the duo hopes clients see as a less controversial, lower-key route.
Dubbe, who is leading a group of unnamed investors in this effort, notably worked with late local businessman Steve Walker and most recently co-founded TheraPearl, which markets hot/cold compresses; Apgar, who interned at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, once practiced at Howard County General Hospital, then more recently at Saint Agnes Hospital and PureVida Medical Spa, in Maple Lawn.
“Patients were asking for aesthetic services when I was at Saint Agnes, then at PureVida,” Apgar said. “I worked at Saint Agnes until this past August [and still leads PureVida], then turned my focus to Greenhouse.”
“We ‘got’ the concept upon first glance, and while I know that we aren’t the most likely candidates to open a marijuana dispensary,” said Dubbe, “we were approached by several groups to invest in it.”
So while the move was made, it was not without some trepidation. “Even to us, cannabis is intimidating,” said Dubbe, “but upon research, we see that this is the way to go with a safe, organizational option.”
“We have a facility that is not intimidating and makes medical marijuana more mainstream and acceptable,” said Apgar. “Our focus is science-based, and we want to help educate our clients about how marijuana is much different than it was in the ’60s. That this is for therapeutic effect comes first.”
But the education, in this case, starts with the facility.
“Many of the greenhouses and dispensaries are not in the nicest places,” said Dubbe. “This is an office with trained professionals from various realms of the health care spectrum, and it’s a nice place to be. We consider Greenhouse part of a one-stop shop for wellness.”
Part of what might be considered off-putting by the more conservative clients, said Apgar, is marijuana’s odor. “The terpenes are what give it an odor. As with aromatherapy, certain odors give it a response; THC gives users a head high. What we’re so excited about is getting away from that and the silly [street] names, and being able to make it palatable for patient use.
“There are maybe 100 different strains of cannabis,” she said. “It used to be that Sativa and Indica were the main strains that most people were familiar with. But as we enter the scientific era, it’s all about designer hybrids and the temperatures at which they vaporize.”
“Smoking it is not an option,” said Dubbe, noting that some growers dispense product, too, but Greenhouse will purchase everything.
“We want to move the needle forward and offer a variety of delivery systems. Our theme is smokeless, because smoke has carcinogens and cause the drug to lose much of the medical effect” which will be used in the treatment of symptoms associated with cancer, opioid addiction, epilepsy, chronic pain, chronic nausea and anxiety/nerves, among others, she said.
Dubbe noted that medical marijuana is not covered by insurance, but thinks Greenhouse’s prices will be competitive to those “in other states. It’s a tough industry. It’s not legal federally, and people are very private about using it — and investing in it.”
On that note, Dubbe said Greenhouse’s financial information is private.
The shroud of privacy around the medical marijuana industry has translated into business owners locating in somewhat out-of-the-way places and keeping a low profile, as well as citizens who may want to purchase product being dead set against having a dispensary in their neighborhood.
So it’s no surprise that many of these facilities also have a hard time finding real estate. Still, Dubbe said the reception has been good at Crossroads.
“We looked at many potential locations and, with the other doctors and services on site, we integrate well within the existing facility. I think it’s one of the best kept secrets in Howard County,” she said. “For instance, we’re right next to a compounding pharmacy, an apothecary and a physical therapy clinic, with integrative wellness doctors and even a naturopath.”
Around the state, reactions to the new pain relief options vary. Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi: The Maryland State Medical Society, said MedChi does not take an official stand on the issue. He did say, however, that some members are attempting to integrate medical marijuana into their practice, while others think it has not been tested for long enough to take that step.
So at this point, information flow to MedChi’s membership is key.
“For example, there are Maryland regulations that you have to stick to, like having a bonafide, ongoing relationship with patients,” said Ransom. “If you see a patient once and give them a marijuana prescription and never see them again, that’s problematic, as is medical marijuana not being legal under federal law.
“So [medical professionals] are taking a certain amount of risk by getting involved with this treatment,” he said. As for MedChi, “Our role will be one of facilitating intelligent research, working through best practices for doctors,” etc.
Similar observations were offered by Vicki Bendure, a spokesperson for ForwardGro, a growing facility in southern Anne Arundel County, who stressed that “until testing is complete, no one can really say exactly when and how the industry will move forward.”
And like Dubbe, she said that finding locations has been an issue, “because not everyone wants a grower or dispensary in their backyard. There are also concerns about the supply chain as the new law takes effect. This is the first phase of [implemention], and there is considerable pressure” on the new companies to address potential issues.
In Anne Arundel County, County Executive Steve Schuh was against legalizing medical marijuana since day one. He “had concerns about these places being in the county, since it’s still illegal under federal law, as well as public safety concerns,” said Schuh’s spokesman, Owen McEvoy, “particularly due to the growing operations aspect, given the amount of product that is being grown.”
Schuh is also concerned about medical marijuana leading to full recreational use, which he also opposes. “Still, I would call our laws more restrictive, given where it is allowed (e.g., not within 1,000 feet of the school or residential areas and calls for public input for special exceptions),” McEvoy said.
“Some politicians were very supportive of medical marijuana — until they found out that a dispensary was slated for their community and their constituents were unhappy,” he said, adding, “Steve’s initial concerns are manifesting themselves in the form of dispensaries popping up in places where they may not be welcome.”
Those misgivings aside, Philip Goldberg, president of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association and owner of Green Leaf Medical (gLeaf), a grower in Frederick County, thinks the industry is poised for a good start. However, he, too, had questions about the initial popularity of available options offered during the market’s debut.
“I feel confident that the 14 medical cannabis growers in Maryland will grow an ample supply,” Goldberg said, pointing to the roughly 13,700 patients on Maryland’s registry, adding, “As the existing growers ramp up, they will be able to satisfy the anticipated 125,000 patients we expect in the state of Maryland.”
However, he feels that the patches, capsules and creams that are being marketed early on will compose less 1% of the initial market.
“While these products will serve a small segment of the patient population in Maryland, they are still an important therapeutic option from the patient perspective; but as a business model, they are not a critical piece.”
However, Goldberg still sees potential in that part of the market. “We believe the patches, suppositories, capsules and creams will become more popular within two years, as physicians gain a level of comfort in recommending cannabis-based medicines. Eventually, these products may compose up to 3% of the market. The most popular product will be dry flour, followed by pre-filled vapor pens, wax and oil concentrates.”
As for Greenhouse, Dubbe said the company was ready for its final inspection by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (which did not respond to requests for an interview for this article), that was held (and the company passed) at the end of October. She and Apgar planned to be up and running after commission approval.
Today, they just want to get the doors open to their rather intriguing new operation.
“We have folks near and dear to us that need this drug,” Dubbe said, “so we are hopefully just weeks away from offering this new service.”
Darius Irani 410-704-7374
ForwardGro, Anne Arundel County
First licensed in Maryland
Gail Rand 866-393-4763
Medical marijuana blog
Don Barto, Jr. 410-258-5077 cell
Adam Campellino 410-762-8745 and [email protected]
Freestate Wellness, Howard County
David Kohn, PR 410-706-7590 and [email protected]
Med Chi Board
Dr. Francisco Ward
Anne Arundel Health Department