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The first year is make it or break it time for most small businesses. For an industry in as much flux as Colorado’s burgeoning medical marijuana trade, that axiom goes double, as the industry …
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The first year is make it or break it time for most small businesses. For an industry in as much flux as Colorado’s burgeoning medical marijuana trade, that axiom goes double, as the industry gains legs and a modicum of respectability.
Dacono Meds, celebrating their first anniversary this month, demonstrates that a sound business model and genuine compassion for patients is a recipe for success in the oftentimes controversial field of medicinal cannabis.
One year along, and the doors are still open, despite the ever-changing complexities of a bewildering morass of state law. One year along, and Henson is still serving patients, despite stifling economical conditions shuttering businesses across the country. One year along, and business is exactly where owner Brad Henson wants it: Helping patients and making “Just enough to keep the lights on,” Henson said. “I think that once you get over the hump of paying for the grow lights and paying all the expenses, you only need so much to live. The rest, we can do great things with.”
Henson, who consistently donates directly back into the community, claimed from the start that he is in the business solely to help those most in need. Four-figure donations to the Santa Cops program, monthly allocations to Children’s Charities, school athletic groups, the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, Dacono Meds has grown to the point where Henson is content with his current patient load, especially in their limited space.
“We really can’t handle any more without expanding,” Henson said, a fact evident from the steady stream of patients coming through the door throughout the day. Any expansion plans are dependent on the city, which currently has a moratorium in place until the end of the year, prohibiting new dispensaries from opening, or existing locations from expanding.
“They said no more in this town; three is enough,” Henson said, tentatively agreeing with the moratorium despite demand that will invariably increase with the recent voter rejection of some 13 existing dispensaries in the neighboring city of Longmont, and another pair in Windsor. Voters also rejected dispensaries in Aurora, Broomfield, Jamestown, Olathe, Paonia and Mesa County, while voting in favor for Eagle, El Paso, Alamosa, Costilla and Park counties, and the cities of Fraser and Minturn.
Municipal laws aside, one of the biggest obstacles facing the dispensary model is banking. Operating a business that is legal under state statutes while prohibited under federal law is confusing at best to federally insured banks, some of which believe they are prohibited from dealing with dispensaries.
“It makes it very difficult, it’s a huge challenge,” Henson said. “And the same thing happens with credit card companies. You come in, get your medicine on your credit card, and in a couple of days we get the money. Then we have the merchant accounts say, ‘By the way, what you are doing is illegal, so we are going to have to shut down your account.’”
Interestingly, Henson notes that other credit processing companies will still take his “illegal” business, provided he pays higher overall fees.
The gray area between state and federal law is just one reason Henson takes playing strictly by the rules very seriously, and takes the necessary steps to ensure the privacy of his patients while tracking literally everything in the event an audit.
Henson takes no chances with his accounting, recording every last detail with a complex point- of-sale system that itemizes each transaction, outlay or donation, no matter how small or seemingly benign. It’s all part of the legitimization of medical marijuana, something Henson works toward with each sale.
“There are a lot of people who do not use marijuana, and who will not in the future. The question there is, how can marijuana benefit them?” Henson said. “The answer is tax dollars. For example, this street is being paved with those tax dollars, or this policeman is on duty, or this library branch remains open. Everyone is being helped by this.”
For those unswayed by the tax boon dispensaries like Henson’s offer, he said critics might want to take a closer look at the human side of the business.
“You need to educate them on the medicinal value,” Henson said “Let them hear the stories of people, how they are helped, how they are getting off harmful pharmaceuticals that were actually causing more problems. This is really helping these people.”
Henson’s dual-pronged approach has won him the approval of city leaders.
“As far as city government, the city of Dacono has been awesome,” Henson said. “They have worked with us every step of the way. They have been supportive in every way.”
State government is another story. Take the 35-day rule for example, (a legislature mandate for patients to wait 35 days beyond the certified mailing date of their application before allowing them to purchase marijuana legally) which carries a $35,000 fine for the dispensary in violation.
“Say you have strep throat,” Henson said “The doctor writes you a prescription. Thirty-five-days later you can pick it up. Where else would you have to wait that long for pain relief?”
“A patient may not have 35 days,” Henson continued, relating the story of a terminal cancer patient and friend, who passed within two weeks, suffering from extreme pain. “His quality of life may well have been improved in those last weeks.”
Henderson related the story of another patient, who misunderstood the new rules believing he was eligible 35 days following his doctor’s examination. Suffering from the pain of excess eye pressure resulting from glaucoma, he came to the dispensary only to be told he had another month to wait for his medication, from the date he mailed his application.
“He burst into tears, but there was nothing I could do,” Henson said. “Especially facing a $35,000 fine.”
Despite the confusing rules, for each patient struggling to obtain the medication, there are dozens of success stories with patients who are successfully medicating multiple conditions.
Henson told of a married couple, both with debilitating illnesses, who recently started marijuana therapy. One uses the drug to alleviate pain, the other, pain and nausea.
“Their family physician recommended it” Henson said. “Neither had ever used marijuana before, and now the wife is completely free of Oxycontin, and both are happier. I believe they are doing better as a couple as well.” Both are using edible preparations, which now encompass over a third of the dispensary’s sales.
Another woman, bedridden for two years and on the potent pain reliever Methadone, underwent a remarkable transformation by switching to marijuana for pain management, according to Henson.
“After her first visit, she was up, cleaned her house for the first time in two years, and was out mowing the lawn,” Henson said. “Her husband had to slow her down.”
For her, the benefits of being off of narcotics are far-reaching and constant, a genuine life changing experience. “She comes in on her own, she is walking, she is out in public again,” Henson said.
Henson recalled an elderly patient, a veteran who initially had to be helped in the door after the Veterans Administration suggested that marijuana might be a more viable option for him than the narcotics that were affecting his personality. This year, Henson said, he came in offering produce grown in his own home garden, unthinkable a year ago due to pain issues.
Richard, whose last name was withheld in the interest of privacy, talked at length about his own experience and that of a friend who stopped marijuana therapy at the insistence of his pain management doctor, who told him the treatment remained illegal. According to Richard, the doctor conducts ongoing urinalysis tests on the patient to ensure he remains THC free, as a condition to providing him with Methadone to aid in his recuperation from a fractured neck, with mixed results.
“He was doing good on the marijuana, I don’t know why he stopped,” Richard said. “Now he is getting worse.”
Richard, who suffers from restless leg syndrome, was under doctor’s orders to take Carbidopa-Levidopra, a medication normally used to treat Parkinson’s disease, to alleviate his symptoms. Facing ten pills daily and still struggling, Richard went to his doctor. “She said, ‘Rich, I think I’d rather put you on medical marijuana than have you take ten pills at night,’” he said.
“She gave me a list of two doctors, and told me “Go to whoever can see you today, because I don’t want you to take the ten pills a day.” Those ten pills were in addition to the Vicodin Rich was taking to counteract pain from a pair of slipped neck vertebrae.
“Jan. 11, 2010, I received my license for medical marijuana. Now, I take maybe one pill a night, if I really need it,” Rich said. “Otherwise, I am taking nothing. Zero.”
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