The dignitaries on hand to enjoy the croissants, coffee and breakfast burritos at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Park City’s cannabis pharmacy Wednesday included the head of the state’s medical cannabis program, a Park City councilor, the site’s pharmacist and multiple patient advocates.
The pharmacy is slated to open next month in a basement suite of a strip of businesses on Kearns Boulevard, a nondescript location the pharmacy’s owners hope to beautify in coming weeks.
A week’s worth of construction work remains, said Deseret Wellness market president Jeremy Sumerix, and the site will need to pass local and state inspections before opening.
The pharmacy will sell cannabis only to those who have a prescription from a qualified medical provider and will not offer cannabis for recreational use.
Park City Councilor Tim Henney said he attended the event to show support for local businesses, offering a hand toward the novelty-sized scissors that sliced through a green ribbon to mild applause.
Several officials offered short remarks before a site tour, including Desiree Hennessy, the executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition, a medical cannabis political action committee.
Hennessy recounted how cannabis had helped her son, appearing emotional as she described her son’s extreme nerve pain.
“Nothing they gave us touched it at all. And so we were living in this period of time where they were telling us they were just going to give him enough nerve blockers to keep the pain down until he died,” she said. “As a mom, that’s probably the most awful thing you think you’re ever going to hear: ‘Let’s just drug him until he dies.’”
Hennessy said her travels around the state to gather signatures to support the medical cannabis ballot initiative showed her what she called “the quiet need I never realized was there.”
Hennessy wasn’t the only person who said that medical cannabis had touched their lives directly, including the executive director of the Utah Cannabis Association, a nonprofit that represents the cannabis industry. Carter Livingston described himself as an “oldish young guy” who found that cannabis provided relief from debilitating back pain after years of running.
Deseret Wellness — a name Sumerix said was chosen to show that the pharmacy is specific to Utah — will operate with a licensed pharmacist on site at all times, a man named Brian Woods.
In an interview, Woods said he took the job after starting his career in big chain pharmacies, a path he didn’t find fulfilling. He indicated the cause had personal resonance, as well.
He said his wife experienced traumatic complications during childbirth, and medication prescribed afterward made things worse. He said after his wife changed medications, he saw a smile on her face for the first time in a year.
“We were at the end of our rope,” Woods said. “Cannabis changed our lives.”
Rich Oborn, director of the Center for Medical Cannabis at the state Department of Health, said it was an “exciting day” with the imminent opening of the eighth cannabis pharmacy in the state.
The entrance to the pharmacy was located behind bunches of green balloons, tucked away in a corner of the strip of businesses, next to a dry cleaner.
Patients would descend the stairs — or, if plans come to fruition, an elevator — and show their credentials at a sign-in window on the basement level.
They would then be allowed into a waiting area, and from there would be called into the medical distribution room. Each door locks and opens remotely.
Sumerix said the cannabis is stored in a vault on-site and that the pharmacy is taking steps to enable patients to pay with cash alternatives, including a Venmo-like app.
Surveillance cameras line the ceiling and Sumerix said that a patient’s entire visit would be videotaped.
Oborn indicated that security would be one of the main focuses of upcoming inspections. He added that Summit County was a natural place for a pharmacy, as its residents supported the 2018 ballot initiative by the widest margin in the state.
In an interview, Oborn said the Utah Department of Health would inspect the facility for its security, ability to track cannabis and transactions, labelling and other functions.
The state plans to track cannabis plants from the time the plants are 8 inches tall until they are harvested, processed and eventually sold.
The state plans to track transactions, as well, to ensure that cannabis is only sold to medical cardholders. Addressing privacy concerns, Oborn said that information about who possesses a cannabis card could only be released by court order.
Oborn joined the site tour after presenting his department’s budget to a legislative committee that morning.
The program expects to operate at a slight loss for the fiscal year ending in June, Oborn indicated, but he expects it to generate revenue in years to come, mostly from a $3 transaction fee on purchases, as well as fees on pharmacy licenses and cardholders.
The proceeds will be transferred into the state’s general fund, he said, and local budget officials indicated they haven’t budgeted for cannabis-related revenue this year.