What benefits do you see for patients throughout Florida within this space?
There are many benefits afforded to patients who participate in this program. First, they have access to a variety of products that are safe and effective treatments for a variety of symptoms that are keeping them from fully enjoying their lives. There’s also the benefit of safety and peace of mind that comes with being able to legally purchase cannabis at a storefront or have it discreetly delivered to their homes. There’s the benefit of choice; as the market continues to mature, consumers benefit from competition both in innovation and price. There is the benefit of taking a more active role in managing conditions naturally. There’s the benefit of quality control, that there are ways to ensure quality and safety of products. Plant-based medicine has been making a comeback and there are many smart people putting their collective brainpower together to make sure people are making more informed choices about their health. There is the benefit of more medical and osteopathic doctors being more involved and open to treating their patients with what has been shown to be more effective and safer than some of the pharmaceutical alternatives.
What motivates you to be a part of the cannabis Industry?
People motivate me to be here, their stories; often equal parts heartbreaking as they are inspiring. I’ve been fortunate enough to work both in the retail side and on the patient certification side and there’s no greater feeling than seeing that you have made a positive impact in their lives. You see the apprehension in first-time patients be replaced by a spark in their eyes next time you see them. You see someone barely moving, walking with assistance devices come back walking on their own. You see them in remission or taking on new hobbies. You see them living again, and it’s a very rewarding feeling.
I often get asked why I do this, as my career path was never heading in this direction and my answer always varies because there are so many reasons: I do it for the arthritic grandmother who was a skilled calligrapher who was finally able to hand write invitations to her granddaughter’s wedding. I do it for the child who no longer has to wear a helmet at all times to avoid injury because he’s no longer getting seizures. I do it for the tormented veteran, who after years can finally enjoy a night’s sleep, or a moment of peaceful serenity, free of harmful intrusive thoughts.
What field are you in within the cannabis space?
I am a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (dispensary) manager for VidaCann. VidaCann is one of only two MMTC’s in Florida that is not a multi-state operator and it is owned entirely by Floridians. In my role, I train my staff to be able to assist patients in finding products that are most likely to provide relief for their symptoms. I am responsible for the hiring, training, and education of MedTenders, inventory management, and regulatory compliance. I wear other hats as well, but I feel I am an educator first and foremost, and as an educator I owe it to the people I serve to make sure I am as knowledgeable as I can be. One of my favorite parts about my role is the ability to go to certifying physicians and speak to them and their patients about our products, what research is out there, and how to get the most out of their medicine. I feel I am an ambassador not only for VidaCann, but for medical cannabis in general.
How can people in Florida benefit from the company you represent?
If a patient is someone who values organically grown cannabis that is free of artificial fertilizers, free of herbicides and pesticides, and is grown in the Florida sun and in soil as nature intended, then my company is right for them. We also have a partnership with Stanley Brothers out of Colorado, known for Charlotte’s Web CBD, which is in our Stanley Brothers ratio products, as well as we are the only company growing high THC cannabis for Stanley Brothers in the country with Miami Splice, Orange Coast, Champagne Breakfast and Tahoe Quattro strains being grown in our Jacksonville Automatic Cultivation Environment Conservatory. Additionally, we grow for Tikun Olam in Florida. Tikun Olam is an Israeli company that has been doing clinical trials and medical research with cannabis for more than 30 years, where such research is legal. This allows us to cite actual research from peer-reviewed studies and trials when recommending Tikun Olam products to our patients.
How did you get started within the cannabis industry?
I was a skeptic about medical marijuana at first. I came from a military background and southern conservative religious upbringing. I had been going through some things related to past military service while living up north and nothing was working for me as far as getting me to sleep or getting my anxiety under control. I was suffering in silence, as the Marines are fond of saying when things are less than comfortable, and you have a job to do. I had been years-deep in the VA’s (US Department of Veteran Affairs) cycle of taking one pill per condition, one for the side effects, and one or two more for the side effects of the side effects medication; multiplied by several comorbid conditions and other ailments and you have a zombie just going through the motions of life instead of living it. There are millions of veterans currently stuck in that cycle, by the way. Overmedicated and barely alive. At one point, I started seeing a good friend of mine showing up on TV. His name is Mike Whiter, and we had gone on our first combat deployment together in the Marine Corps, and I’m lucky to still have him as a friend and mentor. He had been putting his freedom on the line by staging peaceful protests by publicly consuming cannabis in Philadelphia and getting arrested for it. He started alone, then more people joined him, then more until eventually, the city decriminalized cannabis and made it a citable misdemeanor, which he received the first citation. I saw how much he believed in that medicine, that it was important enough for him to make a stand and sacrifice his freedom for it. I reached out and had some conversations with him and that convinced me to give it a try. Effects were immediate and profound. Fast forward about 2 years and I was finally sleeping and had almost eliminated PHARMA’s iron grip. I felt I had my health back. I was corporate middle management at the time and unfortunately there was a situation that required me to terminate employment for someone who had failed a post-accident drug test for cannabis. This person was spectacular at their job and I felt the crushing weight of hypocrisy and a conflict of values, how unfair this situation was and how helpless I was to do anything about it. So I decided to leave the Cush life for the Kush life. I moved back to Florida intent on getting in on a nascent industry and found myself getting hired as a manager to open a new dispensary in Jacksonville.
Are you personally a MJ card holder?
I am. I have been a patient for more than 4 years now. My experiences as a patient have been very influential in how I approach my role as a dispensary manager. I was there at the beginning, when there were limited options when it came both to where to purchase medicine, and what type of products were available. There was no whole flower, there were lines, there were inferior products, not enough to meet demand, all those things. Now, you absolutely can be a successful manager in this space without being a card holder but being a card holder gives me the experience of knowing what patients go through because I’m a patient first and a manager second. I can share personal experiences with products and can relate to patients more effectively because of it. When something new comes out, I’m just as excited to try it as they are. More research is needed, and I always do my homework.
Do you see Florida moving forward with recreational marijuana/cannabis and how will that affect your business?
I do. I think it’s inevitable. I don’t sit in on long-term strategy planning, so this is all speculative opinion. I believe we are going to continue to serve medical patients and make them a priority because that is where we have been most successful. We will certainly serve adult-use patients, as there will likely be an explosion in demand that I don’t believe any of the MMTCs serving patients in this state will be able to meet right away. In short, I anticipate that selling out of products will happen, which as a retailer is a good problem to have. But from a customer retention standpoint, I’m sure there’s a plan in place to re-stock as quickly as possible. There will certainly be an industry-wide adjustment period and growing pains related to being able to meet the demand. I don’t think we’ll be any different. It would be wise as an industry to keep in mind that the legacy market will be ready to meet that increased demand, so I have always viewed legacy operators as legitimate competition. From a regulatory standpoint, it will be interesting to see to what extent the rules related to packaging and marketing advertising will be adjusted. Personally, I’d like to see workforce protections for cannabis use as in other states. I’d love to see that become a priority, because there are many people suffering in silence because medicating with something that is both legal and safe is still seen by the same state that licenses and sanctions it as a threat to their livelihoods. Florida is a tourist state, so I foresee CannaTourism becoming its own emerging industry with everything from consumption lounges, consumer-friendly accommodations, guided tours, culinary endeavors, and guided experiences/tours being among the many possibilities, so it will be very exciting to see.