The absence of the usual signals — a lighted green cross or a bright green leaf with the distinctive spikey leaves — is not a coincidence. It’s truly by design.
It was a deliberate decision Harvest of AZ CEO Steve White and his business partners made when coming up with the model for their medical marijuana dispensary in 2010.
“We are a medical facility, and it’s important that it be reflected in everything we do,” said White, a business-litigation attorney who traded in court appearances for an entrepreneur role in Arizona’s growing medical-cannabis industry. “The design is to be an extension of our business principles.”
A color scheme that boasts a mix of pale oak and dark wood fixtures, bright yellow walls and ample lighting to show off sleek shelving and pristine floors exudes a vibe indicative of a hip juice bar or health food store rather than preconceived notions of a medical marijuana shop.
Each location has a space where support-group meetings and lectures are held, including a physician-led new-patient orientation that’s free, family-friendly and open to anyone in the community, whether they have a card or not. It provides the history of cannabis, strategies, ways to safely ingest it and other basic topics to assist those considering medical marijuana as an alternative to traditional medications.
White agreed this immediately speaks to a certain clientele and draws them to his locations.
“The symbols aren’t helpful. What is helpful is education. We’ve replaced the green leaf with a doctor with office hours,” he said.
When the doors to the original Harvest dispensary opened in 2013, it was the fourth in the Valley and first in Tempe, White said. In September 2016, the second Harvest location opened in Scottsdale.
There is also a greenhouse in Camp Verde and an indoor growth and manufacturing facility in Flagstaff.
When the Tempe location opened, White called its patients a perfect cross section of Arizona residents with one exception: They were very ill. Terminal cancer, AIDS, epilepsy and debilitating or chronic pain were among their conditions.
“You name it,” White said.
Currently, on a regular basis, Harvest sees five times the number of people than it did during the company’s early months, White said.
Patients ages 18-30 comprise 24 percent of the market, with 70 percent of those being male, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Yet, conditions like glaucoma and complications due to Alzheimer’s disease are among the roughly one dozen qualifying conditions for a medical marijuana card.
White recalled a mother who had come in recently with a child who is being treated for epilepsy and other disorders.
“She told us that she didn’t think that, without our services, her child would be alive let alone be doing so well,” he said. “A significant portion of our patient population is able to find relief through medical cannabis after no relief or relieve with severe complications with traditional medications.”
Despite the breadth of people who benefit from cannabis treatment and the strict process needed for a card, the medical marijuana industry faces a significant amount of negative public perceptions by individuals and legislators, White said. Education is key to turning that around.
In Arizona, the industry’s growth promises to put the topic on more radars and in more discussions. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are 130 dispensary licenses as of the end of 2016, with about 115,000 patients statewide. This exceeds the number in Colorado, which has 100,000.
Brandi Adkins is one of those Arizona patients. About 16 months ago, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that causes the former professional dancer joint and muscle swelling and chronic pain.
Adkins was in and out of hospitals when doctors gave her a variety of medications meant to alleviate the pain. These clashed with her disease, making her symptoms worse. Adkins is also a type I diabetic, and the medications would cause her blood sugar to surge.
Medical marijuana turned out to be a successful alternative.
“It had no negative effect on my body, and it balances me more every day,” said Adkins, who recently moved to Flagstaff but makes monthly trips to Harvest’s Scottsdale location for her supply. “It makes me want to be active again.”
When Adkins first walked into Harvest last fall, she immediately felt comfortable and felt that anyone, regardless of their age, could go in and feel at ease. That along with the expertise of every staff member she has dealt with keeps her a loyal client.
“They had mounds of products, and they were knowledgeable about each and every single one. (At other dispensaries, employees) know keywords, but at Harvest they know way more about every strain and every product,” she said. “They listened to what I had to say and what I wanted to get out of it and knew the right way to guide me.”
When he was actively practicing law, White received many calls from people asking his assistance with getting a medical marijuana license. He believed in the industry and the help it could offer those who didn’t find relief through traditional medicine.
At the time, White was looking to exit the legal profession.
“The law was not sufficiently rewarding to me. This appeared to be an opportunity that would also help many others,” he said.
He joined forces with his business partners, who ran a construction company but were interested in pursuing a medical marijuana dispensary license, and stopped taking new clients in 2013. White said he currently has one open case that is medical marijuana-related.
Harvest holds educational events and support groups in partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation of Arizona and other similar organizations. Its non-profit arm, Harvesting Hope, provides assistance to children and families dealing with pediatric epilepsy and scholarships to send them to camp, where Harvest employees are there to make sure the kids stay on their treatment schedule.
A significant number of people walking through Harvest’s doors are exploring cannabis for the first time and have a lot of questions, White said. At all times, there are people qualified to answer just about any question they have and willing to spend as long as it takes to give answers.
“We’re not only interested in selling medical marijuana, but also interested in helping patients,” he said. “We have very strong principles and we stick to them. The cash register does not dictate right and wrong for us.”
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