Last week, we took a tour of a medical cannabis cultivation center on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Today, we examine the issue of training for cannabis dispensary employees.
Jaclyn Dolaway, owner of Pure Life Wellness on Cross Street in South Baltimore, and her General Manager, Carly Bucher, are setting up shop for the day. Doloway says it’s normal for them.
“And we want our patients to feel that way too,” says Doloway. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re coming in and hiding.”
Inside, the shop looks like an old fashioned pharmacy—tile floors, natural lighting and long wooden counters. It’s what’s displayed on the counters that’s different—cannabis.
“I went to Colorado did a lot of visits to different dispensaries to kind of feel out how we want our store to feel,” says Doloway.
Pure Life Wellness, one of 46 licensed cannabis dispensaries in the state, has been open since February.
The dispensary is covered by multiple security cameras and an armed security guard. Patients with prescriptions for medical cannabis enter through doors that automatically lock behind them. Once Dolaway checks to make sure they are who they say they are, they can have their first consultation. Bucher explains how she assists first-time patients.
“Somebody who is brand new is essentially, how do you want to feel? Right, so what are you looking to alleviate?” says Bucher. “We like to start slow and low.”
Bucher, Dolaway and their 11 employees took courses in cannabis distribution from the Trichome Institute, a Colorado based training agency for the marijuana industry. Dolaway says the training is crucial for the patients’ experience.
“You know we don’t want anybody to have a bad experience,” says Doloway. “A lot of these people are new to cannabis. So we want to hold your hand and walk you through this.”
That’s what James Yagielo likes to hear. Yagielo is the director of HempStaff, a marijuana industry training and recruitment agency. He says he’s heard plenty of negative first-time cannabis experiences.
“I’ve talked to many patients that have left one dispensary and gone to another dispensary because they don’t want to know more than the person that is helping them,” says Yagielo.
HempStaff provides in person trainings to a range of Marylanders; some people looking to find work at a dispensary, and others seeking more information. Yagielo says with the multitude of cannabis products on the market from oils to edibles to powders, an employee needs to know what’s what.
“Someone comes in and say they have arthritis, but they also get drug tested at their job,” says Yagielo. “You gotta know what product to give them, so they can relieve their arthritis, but also pass a drug test.”
William Tilburg, director of policy and government relations for the Maryland Cannabis Commission, says state law requires training every 12 months for dispensary employees, but it leaves it up to the dispensary owners to handle that.
“These requirements are consistent with the vast majority of jurisdictions that have medical cannabis programs,” says Tilburg.
To hold the dispensary owners accountable, the commission has set up a formal complaint unit and implemented annual announced inspections and occasional unannounced inspections.
Tilburg says the commission is proposing further regulations that would require a medical professional to be on site when a dispensary is open for business; currently, it is optional.
“And the goal of that to make sure there is a medical professional who does have significant education in things like contra-indications and how things mix, etc. That would be relevant for educating patients and dispensary agents,” says Tilburg.
Yagielo says dispensary employees who are not properly trained can pose a huge problem.
“It is a problem because that is what the heart of the industry is,” says Yagielo. “If the medical patient isn’t getting the proper product, then the program is not working properly.”
And if the program isn’t working properly, that could lead to unhappy customers and hurt the dispensary’s bottom line.
Anirban Basu, an economics consultant with a show on WYPR, says the dispensaries in Maryland that passed the rigorous application process don’t have much competition.
“Part of the value of these companies is they’re in a constrained market place, they have a license, others do not have a license to compete,” says Basu.
So there is a possibility of increased profitability with product differentiation--or the idea of setting your dispensary apart from all the others—and assuring your employees are trained well. That’s why Yagielo wants to standardize training under the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission’s rules and regulations.
“We would’ve liked to see them set a list of standards, but that hasn’t happened,” says Yagielo.
Back at Pure Life Wellness, Dolaway and Bucher are just about set up and ready for patients. Dolaway says she would like to see standardized training to ensure the success of her dispensary.
“I mean I think that just legitimizes this business so much more making it a requirement,” says Dolaway.