Rhode Island marijuana dispensary suggests what may be headed our way
Photo by Michelle Gross
On a brisk October morning, just a hop, skip, and a ferry ride from Martha's Vineyard, the staff at Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center (GCCC) on Aquidneck Island just outside Portsmouth, Rhode Island, was readying the shelves and preparing products for another busy day in the medical marijuana business.
One of three operating registered marijuana dispensaries (RMD's) in Rhode Island, it was business as usual. On any given day, between 30 and 40 patients legally purchase marijuana in various weights and forms. State regulations allow a person to buy up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana, every two weeks.
GCCC customers have a choice of smokable marijuana and marijuana infused products that include an organic hash oil. Edible products, referred to as "medibles," a trend that has been on the rise as a preferred method of cannabis consumption rather than smoking, are coming soon.
The Times accompanied Susan Sanford of West Tisbury, president of Vineyard Complementary Medicine, to Rhode Island. Ms. Sanford has partnered with Greenleaf co-owner Seth Bock in an effort to open a licensed marijuana dispensary in West Tisbury.
"This is the closest operating real life dispensary to Martha's Vineyard," Mr. Bock told The Times on Thursday. "Massachusetts has based a lot of their rules and regulations on Rhode Island's. So what I'm bringing to the table in working with Susan is the closest approximation to what exists in Massachusetts."
Ms. Sanford, one of four Dukes County applicants, has asked the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) for one of 35 statewide licenses, doing business as Greenleaf MV Compassionate Care Inc.
Ms. Sanford, who attended acupuncture school with Mr. Bock and his wife in the late 1990's, said the Rhode Island facility offers a reasonable example of what the Vineyard might see and is a model for the type of facility she would like to operate.
"What we're doing is replicating the philosophy and management approach that Seth has already built here," Ms. Sanford said.
Greenleaf Compassionate Care occupies a single-story building on a nondescript street in a light industrial section of the town. There are high ceilings and an open floor-plan, a painting graces the front wall of the dimly lit 1,200-square-foot sales floor, complete with a circular fountain in the middle.
Opened in June, Greenleaf is still a work in progress.
Last Thursday, John Emmons, who is called the master grower, was finishing off the countertops made from a piece of a spalted maple tree.
"It's meant to be a welcoming atmosphere," co-owner Seth Bock told The Times. "We really make an effort to keep it that way."
Mr. Bock is co-owner of Newport Acupuncture and Wellness Spa. A graduate of the New England School of Acupuncture, he refers to himself as a doctor. Lanky and laid-back, Mr. Bock, 40, said he has practiced acupuncture and Chinese medicine for the past 10 years, in addition to studying the effects of medical marijuana and helping patients find the ideal dosage and treatment for their condition.
"Our goal is to provide the best product and the best support for patients," Mr. Bock told The Times. "We're talking about a natural product with a number of natural varieties. People respond differently to the same product. So there's a little more variability than prescribing somebody aspirin. It's really a process over time of working with people to help direct them to the best strains."
The facility sees an average of 30 patients per day, 70 percent of them male, Mr. Bock explained. Currently, Greenleaf has a total of 400 registered patients. There has also been an increase in elderly customers, he said.
"It's not your typical teenager looking to just get high," he said. "People, some really sick people, rely on this medicine. Those are the people we're here to serve."
Mr. Bock said his staff members come from a variety of backgrounds, including a former narcotics detective.
"I really hand selected them from people I knew locally, that I knew and trust," Mr. Bock said. "I just started recruiting people one by one."
Mr. Bock draws a sharp distinction when it comes to the business of dispensing marijuana.
"We're a caregiver, yes. But we're not a health care provider or primary care provider," Mr. Bock explained. "We don't examine people and we don't do diagnostics. We provide a product and we operate more like a pharmacy. We draw a very clear distinction about that."
The community has been very supportive of his efforts, he said.
"The police have been the most laid-back and supportive of what we're doing," Mr. Bock said. "Without these centers, there are going to be hundreds of caregivers trying to do this in their basements with shoddy electrical work, risk of home invasions, fires, all this, so they've been very supportive and willing to collaborate and work with us."
Purchasing marijuana from a dispensary in Rhode Island begins with an identification card.
"In order for somebody to be welcome inside, they have to have a patient card," Mr. Bock explained. Patients must register with the state and be issued a card, as well as designate a specific dispensary as their supply source. While marijuana laws differ from state to state, marijuana suppliers in Rhode Island are defined as individuals who can supply medical marijuana to up to five qualified medical marijuana patients.
The Greenleaf operation includes a greenhouse. Mr. Emmons led a tour of the grow facility, located behind double locked doors.
"I call them my girls," Mr. Emmons said pointing to various plants. Mr. Emmons designed the hydroponics system used to grow the plants.
Currently, 10 strains of cannabis are grown on site. With names like White Russian, Blue Cheese, and Holy Grail Kush, to name a few, most are hybrid strains of sativa and indica and possess varying levels of THC and CBD, the active ingredients in marijuana.
Marijuana is marketed and sold in a variety of forms and prices. Greenleaf currently buys excess product from other authorized growers while it waits for its first harvest.
An ounce of marijuana retails in the shop for between $300 and $375, depending on variety. White Russian, a popular hybrid strain, starts at $13.50 per gram and rises to $300 per ounce.
"Because we've been dependent on wholesale prices, we've been forced to charge a fortune," Mr. Bock said. "Our intention is to provide medicine between the $200 and $250 per ounce price point."
By comparison, the street price for an ounce of marijuana on Martha's Vineyard is between $350 and $400, Edgartown Detective Sergeant Chris Dolby told The Times.
Other products are on display. A syringe of hash oil, used as a salve by people with skin conditions, costs $60. Smoking papers, pipes, and books are also available.
On its way
Statutes allowing the use of medical marijuana have been enacted in 19 states, Massachusetts among the most recent.
The rules in place in Rhode Island are slightly different from those in Massachusetts, where individuals will be allowed to purchase from any licensed facility.
Massachusetts residents who have a prescription for marijuana will need to register to purchase or grow marijuana. According to DPH, "Qualified patients would pay a $50 annual registration fee, and patients who qualify for a hardship cultivation license would pay an additional $100 annual fee." Patients with financial hardships could appeal the fees, but they would only be waived with approval from state officials.
Nationwide, medical marijuana is being used to treat people with qualifying medical conditions such as AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and chronic pain, among other conditions.
With phase two of a two-part application process well underway in Massachusetts, all four of the Martha's Vineyard based businesses seeking to open an RMD have cleared the first hurdle in the regulatory process and have moved on to the more stringent second.
They include Oak Bluffs businessman Mark Wallace of Kingsbury Group Inc., Island businessmen Geoffrey Rose and Jonathan Bernstein of Patient Centric of Martha's Vineyard Ltd., Susan Sanford of Greenleaf MV Compassionate Care Inc., and Michael Peters of MV Greencross Inc.