Opening a new business is always a gamble. Opening a medical marijuana business carries with it additional risks. Add a pandemic on top of those risk factors, and things seem to be stacked against success.
Plant Family Therapeutics, a medical marijuana dispensary in Mountain Home, is facing and beating those odds, according to executive director Michael Lunsford.
“We opened our doors here on February 3,” Lunsford said of the business. “So, maybe 30-45 days before we really started to make changes based on the pandemic. Public health was on our minds.”
In Arkansas, medical marijuana dispensaries have many regulations other businesses do not encounter. The dispensaries are highly regulated and access to the interior of the dispensaries is also limited.
“This is a compliance company. Each and every day I’m reviewing the laws,” said Lunsford. “We are heavily restricted so for us, the number of people we are allowed to have in the building wasn’t a big change. Instead of having 10 people in the waiting room, we brought it down to having two people to comply with social distancing.”
One thing that did change for the business is the push to moving ordering to online as much as possible. Customers add items to a cart and when they arrive at the dispensary, their orders are ready to pick up and pay for.
In other states with medical marijuana dispensaries were offering curbside pickup. That’s a service Lunsford said the dispensary might have liked to offer patients.
“But, I can play devil’s advocate and see that as a potential harm,” Lunsford said. “I don’t like the idea of us carrying the product out the door. Surveillance out there is not as good as it is indoors.”
For patients coming to get prescriptions, Lunsford said there have been days when wait times increased due to the pandemic. For the owners and employees of the dispensary, the biggest challenge has been recognizing and accommodating the needs of individual patients, Lunsford said.
“You have some of the folks who are at high risk and they are taking all of the precautions very seriously. They want everything sanitized, they want to maintain that social distance and they have their masks on,” said Lunsford. “On the flip side, you have this group of folks who think it may be a hoax. They do not want to wear a mask, they don’t really pay attention to those social distancing rules.”
It’s when those two different groups collide in the dispensary’s main public room for the that staff must work hard make certain all patients feel comfortable. It’s a job that the staff works at every day, Lunsford said.
“Trying to marry those two together, trying to be a customer service oriented industry and allow both groups to do what they want is a challenge,” said the director. “That’s been the most difficult thing, 100 percent without a doubt.”
Like many businesses that sell products, the dispensary saw a spike in business when the pandemic hit. For a new business in particular, the spike was welcome news at a time when most news wasn’t so good.
“That spike I think was driven by the people who were more at risk,” Lunsford said. “They wanted to come out and make that bulk purchase. Think toilet paper and cleaning supplies, people that would put things back to keep a bigger supply.”
However, there was a bit of a drop as those with a bigger supply didn’t appear again on their normal schedule.
“There would be people who I’d normally see every week who bought in bulk and I wouldn’t see them for maybe a month,” Lunsford said. “That little spike and flow has leveled off now and we’re pretty much back to normal.”
The dispensary is doing well and the patients are happy with the service the business is providing, according to Lunsford.
“We’re happy that we’re able to provide people with the medicine they need in a safe and friendly environment where they can really be educated about our products,” said Lunsford. “Anyone with questions, we always encourage them to call us or come in for a consultation.”
Plant Family Therapeutics
5172 U.S.Highway 62 E, Mountain Home