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Impatient patients
After delays, state’s largest medical marijuana dispensary readies to open

06/02/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



Sixty-nine-year-old Stanley Kuligowski drinks a strange brew every day.

“Every morning I get up and I make a green tea and I put [in] black pepper and raw cocoa, turmeric, echinacea and mix it all together and drink it just like coffee,” Kuligowski said.
The herbs and spices produce natural phytocannabinoids similar to those found in marijuana. The tea doesn’t get him high, but it does help alleviate some painful symptoms.
When Kuligowski had a stroke, he says, it was like radio transceivers in his brain blew a fuse. His brain lost contact with the entire left side of his body, initially paralyzing it, but little by little, the retired Manchester resident regained some movement. 
“I can move somewhat, but I have terrible leg spasms,” Kuligowski said.
Those spasms, left untreated, keep him up at night and can worsen to the point of triggering a full-blown seizure, he said. 
“I can’t sleep. It just drives me crazy,” Kuligowski said.
So while his morning regimen includes a bitter, spicy chocolate broth, he also smokes marijuana obtained illegally before going to bed at night.
The way Kuligowski describes it, one of the key active chemicals in cannabis, CBD, acts as a sort of signal booster for his broken transceivers. This allows his legs to keep from spasming.
The alternative would be a prescription pill that does the opposite; it jams the signal entirely. Kuligowski says it knocks him out when he takes the drug, to the point where he loses control of his bowels. 
Medical marijuana-based pills, tinctures, salves and transdermal patches with a high CBD-to-THC ratio — THC is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis — are some of the things Prime Alternative Treatment Centers in Merrimack hopes to offer when it opens. And Kuligowski, who has his state-issued patient card already, has been waiting eagerly for that to happen.
 
Construction delays
Now that three out of four therapeutic cannabis dispensaries are open for business in New Hampshire, people are wondering why the one serving the largest population, Prime ATC, is not. 
Prime’s chief operating officer, Brett Sicklick, says several factors set them back, but the organization is also being careful not to cut corners.
“There’s certainly something to be said about getting open as soon as possible. … But we understand that we need to be around for a long time,” Sicklick said. “There was demolition that was needed … [and] there was work to prep the space before we could get into the buildout process.”
Last summer, when dispensary operators were settling on their cultivation and retail sites and meeting with local planning boards and having public hearings, the Department of Health and Human Services forecasted the dispensaries would all be up and running by February or March of this year. The first organization to open its doors to patients was Sanctuary ATC in Plymouth with a cultivation site in Rochester. That was April 30. Since then, Temescal Wellness opened two locations, in Dover and Lebanon, with a cultivation site in Manchester.
Both Temescal and Sanctuary received their certificates from the state to start cultivating cannabis in January, but Prime hasn’t reached that milestone yet. 
“The focus, at least with Sanctuary and Temescal, was on the cultivation site. That was [the state’s] recommendation because that was going to take … two, three months at least to cultivate a batch of cannabis. So the thought was they could start cultivating, and while they were cultivating they could finalize the construction on their dispensaries,” said DHHS’s John Martin.
Sicklick and his team began demolition at the Peterborough cultivation site around January and are still building out the cultivation and retail locations.
One reason it’s taking longer to set up is the size of the cultivation site — it will be the largest of the three cultivation sites, Martin said.
Sicklick is building out a sizeable portion of a 36,000-square-foot building with room to grow. 
Prime is expected to serve a much larger patient population than the other sites, since the region Prime is licensed to operate in is the most populous and includes Manchester, Concord and Nashua. And while Salem and Derry are technically part of the region served by the Dover dispensary, it’s a shorter drive to Merrimack and patients can select which dispensary they wish to use.
But a larger cultivation site can mean higher stakes when it comes to protecting the plants from mold and disease. New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law requires all plants be grown organically, and pesticides are banned. Sicklick says he’s not leaving anything up to chance.
“If we have issues with our rooms that ultimately means we can’t get product out to patients, which is critical,” Sicklick said. “We took our time with our design, we took our time with our implementation, we took our time with equipment selection — not to drag our feet but to make sure we’re doing everything right.”
Meanwhile, plans for the location of the retail site changed in February, putting them further behind schedule. The original building Prime had selected and for which it got town approval, a former bank, turned out to be problematic.
“The rental rate was significantly higher [and] the building was not in the shape that we needed it to be,” Sicklick said. 
The president of the Catholic Thomas More College across the street from that building also threatened to protest a dispensary and hinted at pursuing legal action, but Sicklick said that had nothing to do with the decision to find another location.
They settled on a spot at the far end of a small Merrimack strip mall at 380 Daniel Webster Highway. The dispensary itself is going to be next to a nail salon, and the administrative offices and family waiting area will be in a space on the opposite side of the salon.
 
Dispensary to dispensary 
The way things are shaping up, the Merrimack dispensary may be ready to open just as Prime begins the cultivation process, so they won’t have any of their own products ready to sell. 
But Sicklick has been prepared for this possibility. He’s been talking with the folks at Sanctuary ATC to buy a portion of their products to sell out of Prime’s dispensary as a temporary solution.
This could start happening in a matter of weeks.
“I think June is realistic and as soon we get our approval for cultivation, that gives us the ability to get our approval for the dispensary location. Then we can potentially purchase product from the other ATCs to provide to our patient base, which is something we are optimistic is going to happen,” Sicklick said.
Martin says the rules allow for inter-dispensary sales, but DHHS would need to approve specific plans.
Prime would then swap out the product with their own in about three months when they’ve finished cultivating a first batch. But until then, Sicklick says, it’s possible the prices for the products may be higher than normal. Ultimately, Prime is aiming to sell an ounce of marijuana for between $300 and $400.
 
Patient projections
Of the 588 approved medical marijuana patients to have received cards as of May 20, 138 have signed up for the Merrimack dispensary. 
“Oddly enough, the way it’s panning out at this point right now, it’s the North Country that has the most patients, which is something I never expected to see,” Martin said.
There are 208 card-carrying patients connected to the Plymouth dispensary run by Sanctuary, 166 for Temescal’s Dover location and 76 for Lebanon.
There are still hundreds of patients waiting for their applications to be approved or their cards to arrive. More are expected to apply after Prime is up and running, and some patients getting their marijuana product from Dover may switch to Merrimack after it opens, Martin said.
“It’s going to dramatically increase over the course of the next six to 12 months,” Sicklick said.
Sicklick expects Prime’s patient numbers to reach 500 by the end of the year. His conservative estimate for opening the dispensary is in late June, though it could be sooner. 
Still, “soon” can seem like an eternity for Stanley Kuligowski and others like him.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Kuligowski said. 





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