Maryland is known for two things: crab cakes and football (at least according to the movie “Wedding Crashers”). But with some training and education, Herman Dunst hopes to add cannabis to that list.
Dunst is co-founder, president and chief operating officer of Trilogy Wellness, a medical cannabis dispensary in Ellicott City, Md. In this Q&A, Dunst talks with Cannabis Dispensary about how the company uses technology to stay on top of regulatory changes, the motivational power of patient feedback, the challenges of operating in the state’s market and more. (Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.)
Brian MacIver: What was a lesson you learned the hard way?
Herman Dunst: Two lessons that we learned the hard way involved understanding the rules and how to educate a new consumer base. The cannabis business was a new endeavor for the entire team who had a history of working together in other businesses. We all came from different backgrounds in food, corrections and retail industry, but when it comes to a cannabis business—you are involved with many different regulated industries, including food, health, OSHA, law enforcement, retail, manufacturing and more. The number of regulations guiding the cannabis industry is unique and often overwhelming. It’s hard to get up to speed on them all while running all aspects of the business.
BM: How do you address that challenge?
HD: We found PowerDMS, a cloud-based [compliance-management] platform, a resource that had the knowledge and experience we needed to help us through this. We partnered with them to help get us ready for inspection. We are now able to keep up with all the regulatory changes and set up a change control process using the software. All employees have access to PowerDMS and are required to sign off on all SOPs (standard operating procedures) and complete their required training in the system. We have also found a community-based marketing formula that is helping us to work around the advertising restrictions and other limitations.
BM: What has been your biggest recurring challenge?
HD: The same products are not always available from the growers and processors, making it difficult to provide consistency for patients. There are often patients who find a medicine that works for their needs and then our team will be unable to source the product due to a lack of supply. In addition, the cost of cannabis products in Maryland is still very high, which puts pressure on our profitability as we try to offer discounts and incentives to make the products affordable for our patients.
BM: What has been your biggest achievement?
HD: Our biggest achievement has been the building of our team. We made the early decision to implement the highest standards possible for staff education. The staff must be certified by Healer, an independent, physician-developed medical cannabis training program, as well as be trained on all aspects of dispensary management and regulatory compliance. Our commitment to on-going staff training has also contributed to a high retention rate of employees and a satisfying work environment.
BM: How do you choose cultivation partners?
HD: We use supply chain best practices often practiced at much larger companies when choosing cultivation partners for Trilogy Wellness. We visit facilities and develop relationships with the cultivation partners so that we fully understand their capabilities. We review the quality of the product, their standard operating procedures [and] quality control, and only work with partners that will provide the best experience and quality products for our patients.
BM: What worries you the most about the cannabis market?
HD: We are concerned with the lack of education and training that exists at some other dispensaries, as well as the quality of the products that are coming into the market. The lack of training can lead to unfavorable patient experiences, which is why we are committed to training and making Trilogy Wellness a go-to destination for patients from all over Maryland.
BM: What about the cannabis market makes you excited/hopeful?
HD: We are inspired by the patient testimonials we receive, and [we] witness first-hand every day how instrumental the use of medical cannabis can be to improve the quality of life of our patients. In some cases, our patients’ lives have been completely transformed.
BM: What keeps you up at night?
HD: The only thing that keeps me up at night is knowing that there are many more people in our community and across Maryland that could benefit from the many positive impacts of medical cannabis. Because we have built a solid infrastructure and compliance process, I don’t worry much about the regulatory aspect because we made the commitment to excellence from day one.
BM: What helps you sleep at night?
HD: We have a passionate and dedicated staff, and we know from our patients’ stories that we are providing a healing solution to so many medical conditions. It’s important to us to change lives, and everything we do is aligned to supporting the health and wellness in our community.
BM: If you weren’t in cannabis, what would you be doing?
HD: I have a background in supply chain operations, farming and law enforcement. The cannabis business is the perfect business model that allows me to remain involved in all areas of my experience. Perhaps I will retire one day, but for now, this industry is exciting and rewarding.