First State Compassion Center to soon dispense medical marijuana

First State Compassion Center on Germay Drive in Wilmington will remain an inconspicuous building with no signage even after its opening later this month. All patients will have the address and the owners emphasized there is no need to draw attention to the building as it can only be entered by those holding a valid medical marijuana card. (Delaware State News photo by Ashton Brown)

First State Compassion Center on Germay Drive in Wilmington will remain an inconspicuous building with no signage even after its opening later this month. All patients will have the address and the owners emphasized there is no need to draw attention to the building as it can only be entered by those holding a valid medical marijuana card. (Delaware State News photo by Ashton Brown)

WILMINGTON — In 10 days, travelers of Germay Drive in Wilmington might not notice any difference in scenery, but Delaware’s first medical marijuana dispensary, First State Compassion Center, will be open for business.

From the outside, the building at 37 Germay Drive looks inconspicuous: A bare exterior with no signs other than the address.

The dispensary plans to keep it that way.

“All our patients will know where we are located and since we are not open to the public, there is no reason to advertise,” said Joel Allcock, the center’s senior vice president.

Delaware officials finalized a contract in August 2014 with First State to operate the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary.

Once patients enter the plain looking building in an industrial park in south Wilmington, they are met with a bay of lockers where all personal items must be stored before entering a reception chamber.

Medical marijuana patients at First State Compassion Center will be greeted to this view after passing through security and reception. All marijuana products will be behind the counter and a consultant will help each patient choose the product that is right for them ranging from different strains of the plant to ointments and lozenges. (Delaware State News photo by Ashton Brown)

Medical marijuana patients at First State Compassion Center will be greeted to this view after passing through security and reception. All marijuana products will be behind the counter and a consultant will help each patient choose the product that is right for them ranging from different strains of the plant to ointments and lozenges. (Delaware State News photo by Ashton Brown)

Patients are allowed in the chamber only one at a time. A valid government-issued photo identification card and a valid medical marijuana card must be presented and verified by the receptionist.

Currently, there are 330 active Delaware medical marijuana cards; another 80 or 90 are in the approval process.

“I think so far the numbers are low because there was no real benefit of having a card since there were no dispensaries,” Mr. Allcock said.

He added that cards did grant immunity to those caught with marijuana obtained illegally.

“Once we open, I expect an influx of medical marijuana patients because there will finally be a legal means of getting the medicine they need,” he said.

“But patients may still face a barrier when it comes to a doctor signing off on them entering the program because some doctors are under the unfounded conception that they can be persecuted for recommending the program when that just isn’t true,” he said.

Although some doctors are not in favor of medical marijuana or are concerned about non-existent repercussions, the center is not allowed to refer would-be customers to those physicians more inclined to sign off on a medical marijuana card.

The process

Once first-time users of the center pass through the reception area with their card, they are greeted with the aroma of marijuana from the center’s shelves and grow room. The customers then will receive a consultation to learn how the dispensary works and be required to sign legal documents that prohibit the distribution of goods purchased there.

Having a medical marijuana card doesn’t allow patients to buy as much marijuana as they might want or can afford.

Patients are limited to no more than 3 ounces every 15 days.

Aside from purchasing buds (marijuana in its plant form), patients can choose from alternatives such as oils, ointments and lozenges, all of which are produced on the premises.

The center also is limited in the amount of marijuana it can grow and distribute. At this time, the dispensary can cultivate no more than 150 plants at a time and have no more than 150 ounces of marijuana products in its inventory.

The regulations could change in the future if center’s supply isn’t enough to keep up with demand. A change in regulation would not need to travel through the legislature, That decision rests in the hands of the Delaware Division of Public Health.

Patients also won’t be able to window shop or sort through inventory: Everything will be stored behind the counter.

“Patient advocates will be working at the counter and will help the patient choose the type of product that suits their needs,” Mr. Allcock said. “Smoking buds isn’t the right option for everyone, especially patients dealing with respiratory difficulties like lung cancer.”

Once patients select their marijuana, the patient advocate will seal it in an unmarked, childproof Mylar bag.

They can pay with cash, credit or a debit card. No third parties or insurers cover the cost.

“The goal is to keep the product affordable because we are a medical facility and patients should be able to afford the medicine they need,” Mr. Allcock said. “And because we are a compassion center, end of life care is free.”

The process of obtaining medical marijuana products from the center may seem secure on its own but in addition to the logistical safeguards, more than 100 surveillance cameras surround and fill the 47,000-square-foot facility.

“We will have video of each individual from the time they step onto the property until they leave,” First State president Mark Lally said. “We will do everything to ensure the safety of our employees, patients and products.”

When it opens the center will have 30 employees and expects the number to grow to 50 by the end of the year.

Mr. Allcock hopes that people will no longer attach a stigma to marijuana use as patients begin to reap its purported benefits.

“This is a professional and welcoming environment where people come for their medical needs,” he said. “This isn’t the kind of place where you will see 25- to 30-year-old guys with dreadlocks and Grateful Dead T-shirts. This is a place where people can come to get the medicine they need to hopefully live a better life.”

A personal perspective

Although Mr. Allcock seems to be all-business when it comes to medical marijuana and the First State Compassion Center, the field is much more than a business endeavor. He has been interested in it personally since 1992 and professionally involved since 2006.

“For me, medical marijuana has become a personal mission,” he said. “My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992 and he underwent chemotherapy and we saw him wasting away right in front of us and he passed away eight months later.”

While trying to help his father cope with cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and lack of appetite, Mr. Allcock consulted his father’s doctor.

“He recommended I buy marijuana for him. I had never been around it before and didn’t want my dad to think less of me for bringing it up because it was still illegal,” Mr. Allcock said. “To this day, my biggest regret is being too uncomfortable to suggest it to him because I have seen firsthand thousands of patients’ lives and quality of living improve with the help of medical marijuana.”

When medical marijuana became legalized in Rhode Island in 2006, Mr. Allcock was one of the first on board with the program, becoming a licensed medical marijuana caregiver and director of cultivation of a compassion center.

“I’ve been to California and Colorado to learn from the best growers in the country,” he said.

As an expert grower, Mr. Allcock has learned to produce high quality marijuana products, all starting with the grow room.

“The goal is to replicate the best possible conditions available in nature and improve upon that,” he said. “All our products are lab-tested for both potency and purity. There is no risk of buying any contaminated products that may have mold or insects. All our products are held to a very high standard.”

First State Compassion Center is at 37 Germay Drive in Wilmington and will open June 26. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Admission is only granted to individuals with a valid medical marijuana card.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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