Heat is rarely a good thing in cannabis. If a grow environment is too hot, plants die. If a dispensary is too hot, patients and customers become uncomfortable. And if lawmakers apply heat to the industry, you end up with situations like what is happening in Arizona, where one of the state’s appeals courts recently ruled that cannabis extracts are not protected by the state’s medical marijuana law, essentially dooming edible and concentrate products.
General Manger Brian Baldwin is the man in charge of dealing with that predicament at Ponderosa ReLeaf in Phoenix’s West Valley. In this rapid-fire interview, Baldwin talks with Cannabis Dispensary about the recent court ruling, how the dispensary handles stiff local competition and the store’s “deli-style” display.
Brian MacIver: What are your thoughts on the recent Arizona appeals court ruling making extracts such as cartridges illegal in the state?
Brian Baldwin: The recent ruling is unfortunately a sad display of the disconnect between certain policy makers and the general public’s common-sense perspective on medical marijuana. The disconnect is further exposed when considering … that the most ill and vulnerable medical marijuana patients typically are not consumers of dried cannabis flowers. Most often, these are the patients that are utilizing extracted oils, infused edibles, topicals and tinctures to deliver consistent and reliable results for their individual needs and ailments. In some cases, smoking dried cannabis flower is not even an option for them due to their specific medical conditions. The recent ruling consequentially punishes those patients who have discovered a new quality of life through less invasive and more effective forms of treatment.
MacIver: How does the court ruling affect you?
Baldwin: Our regulatory agency, DHS* (Arizona Department of Health Services), has reassured us [that we should] continue operating “business as usual,” and that is what we intend to do. We are confident and optimistic that common-sense politics and bipartisan participation aimed at elevating the greater good of all Arizonan patients will prevail, and we will be able to continue operating without ... uncertainty looming overhead.
*[Editors’ note: CD contacted Arizona DHS to clarify the agency’s position. DHS stated: “The Arizona Department of Health Services [the Department] is aware of the recent Arizona Court of Appeals decision regarding hashish and the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. This case arose from a criminal matter and does not directly affect the Department or direct the Department to make any changes to its rules. However, criminal law does take precedence over Department rules.”]
MacIver: Competition is already fierce in Phoenix, where Ponderosa ReLeaf recently moved. How are you handling it?
Baldwin: We are doing what we always have done …, striving to bring the highest quality products to our patients at a competitive price point and an unmatched level of customer service. We will continue to battle it out for our place at the table with the emerging conglomerates and the commercial Goliaths. We refuse to shy away from the competition encroaching into our neighborhood, but instead welcome it with open arms, as it only raises the bar for higher standards and a higher demand for quality products.
“The recent ruling is unfortunately a sad display of the disconnect between certain policy makers and the general public’s common-sense perspective on medical marijuana.” Brian Baldwin, GM, Ponderosa ReLeaf
MacIver: Ponderosa ReLeaf offers deli-style ordering. What is that, and how have patients responded to it?
Baldwin: Deli-style is the manner in which the flower is displayed and dispensed in front of the patient in real time. In comparison to … pre-packaged dispensing, deli-style allows the patients to see and smell the exact flower they will be leaving the store with. We take extreme pride in the quality of medicine we produce, so we embrace the personable interaction and patient-centric focus of deli-style dispensing. From a business perspective, it is a very tough model to implement as there are more complexities and intricacies with this approach than a pre-packed system, but our patients absolutely love it, so we will continue to make it work.
MacIver: As a cannabis-business operator, what has been your biggest lesson learned?
Baldwin: The biggest lesson learned is that the cannabis industry is always changing. Whether it be regulatory issues or legal challenges, you can never be too comfortable. You must always be ready to adapt to change. When [Arizona] first started our medical program five years ago, regulations only allowed for the sale of dried-cured marijuana flower. During the last few years, the regulations have changed to allow for the licensing of multiple different products like edibles, vapes, tinctures and topicals. The next big change on Arizona’s horizon is the possibility of legalizing cannabis for adult use in 2020. This will undoubtedly bring some of the biggest changes and challenges we have seen to date, but the Ponderosa team will be prepared to adapt and thrive in that new environment, and we will continue to put the patients and customers of our great state first.