Pierre Werner, owner of DrReefer.com in Boulder, moved from Nevada to Colorado a month ago to set up a dispensary offering marijuana-growing courses. As the Clendenin case came down and as the city of Boulder began considering placing additional legal restrictions on dispensaries, he was forced to find a bigger retail space so that he could expand his dispensary to offer other services, such as massage and acupuncture, for his patients.
“I wasn’t counting on all the wellness stuff,” he concedes. But ultimately, he says, he will do whatever it takes to adhere to the law. “I’m willing to comply with whatever they need. I’m just wanting to pay my taxes and be left alone.”
Laurel Alterman of AlterMeds in Louisville says being allowed to simply offer the additional services makes more sense than forcing patients to buy a package of services they don’t need when all they want is the marijuana. She recently sent a questionnaire to her 40 patients to find out what other services they are interested in, but so far, all of the patients she has spoken to just want a safe, clean, professional place to buy locally grown medical marijuana.
“Nobody’s said, ‘I need my house cleaned,’” she says.
“A pharmacist at a regular pharmacy is not expected to clean these folks’ houses.”
Still, Alterman says she will comply with the new legal interpretation by offering non-marijuana services.
“It’s a new game, but whatever it is, I’ll do what it takes to remain compliant,” she says. “We’ll put a massage chair in here. But I would just like to see this ruling reversed and stop the nonsense. It’s not a moral issue.”
She is considering outsourcing those additional services to an external organization, such as the Colorado Patients and Providers Collective or the Cannabis Therapy Institute.
The Cannabis Therapy Institute recently launched a “Colorado Patient Services” program as a referral service that can connect patients with the additional services they need. Dispensaries pay a $100 application fee to sign up for the program. Then they enroll their patients, and the patients receive a call from the program to find out what additional services they want. The patients pay directly for any additional service, and the program reports regularly back to the caregiver about what their patients have chosen.
Laura Kriho, public relations coordinator for the Cannabis Therapy Institute, says the referral service is, in part, “a network of patients helping patients.” The network also includes a growing number of professionals, from massage therapists and acupuncturists to carpenters and interior designers. “We are looking at this as a good thing, that it’s going to double or quadruple the number of businesses involved in medical marijuana,” Kriho says.
She acknowledges that it’s still unclear whether simply referring patients to services fulfills the legal requirement for caregivers to provide more than marijuana.
“It was a quick way for us to get something out there to dispensary owners who were worried about complying with the new world order,” Kriho says. “We’re excited to bring in all of these new businesses. They thought [the ruling] would hurt us, but it’s only made us stronger.”
She says about a half dozen dispensaries have contacted her about the program so far. Like Alterman, Kriho questions why dispensaries are being treated differently than pharmacies. “What does your Walgreens pharmacist do for you?” Kriho asks. “Mow your lawn?” And she questions the alarmist attitude toward a drug that has proved to be much less fatal than alcohol. “We’re still looking for a dead body, after 10,000 years of consistent human use,” Kriho says.
Nick Cokas, owner of Boulder dispensary Colorado Care, says a friend is setting up a similar referral service in which patients will be able to register their needs online and have vendors bid for their business. In addition to participating in that service, he says, he is partnering with a gym that gives his patients a discount. But Cokas adds that most patients can’t afford the additional services, and it is an unfair burden to ask dispensaries to supply them. “My biggest frustration is that we don’t ask liquor stores or pharmacies to do something like this,” he says. “I’m not a doctor. I’m not a chiropractor. I’m not a massage therapist. I’m a computer programmer.”
Cokas, a brain cancer survivor who had to return to work even though he was still vomiting regularly from his chemotherapy treatments, says the issue shouldn’t be about making dispensaries jump through more hoops, but about what is best for the patients.
“Instead of setting up regulations that don’t help people, let’s help people,” he says. “What’s the real goal here? That’s what I’m curious about. But I’ll do whatever my lawyer tells me to do. We will comply with any law, whatever they throw out there.”
Still, he says, it will take time for dispensaries to adjust to the new legal landscape, just as it took years for institutions to adhere to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act by installing wheelchair ramps and elevators.
Another dispensary representative who did not want to be identified says his clinic is not inclined to change its offerings until things settle down.
“We’re in limbo right now,” he told Boulder Weekly.
“We don’t want to take a course of action that could change in three or four weeks.”