Wow! The first “click-bait” title for MedCannReport! Let’s see how this goes…
In Maryland, the medical cannabis program is poised to open up shop, with plants being grown, processors, labs and dispensaries identified and preparing to open, and patients eagerly awaiting their chance to get the medicine legally promised to them in 2013. Word on the (not) street is that dispensaries will begin to have product for sale sometime this Fall, possibly as early as the end of September 2017. All well and good, and there are some very good people working very hard to make this happen. As a matter of fact, I have met many of these good people. I have seen their dedication to the industry, and listened to their concern for providing patients the best possible medicine in the most welcoming of environments. There truly are some amazing and dedicated individuals working, not only directly with the plant, but also in peripheral roles such as consulting, security, delivery, advocacy and education.
Education that’s where The Medical Cannabis Report (MedCannReport) fits in. It has been our goal since the beginning (2015) to provide the patients, medical professionals, law enforcement, and the communities of Maryland with the best possible education and information about medical cannabis and the program here in Maryland. This has been a rough task. Not because of any shortage of good information or resources, but due to a severe lack of engagement from the industry that has so much riding on this program.
It has long been the mission of MedCannReport to encourage industry players to recognize that the best way to engage their patients (customers) and medical professionals (prescribers) is to give quality education and information to the public, at no cost, so that there is a well-informed patient base ready to patronize their businesses and use their products and services. One way to do this is through direct and media advertising. However, that is risky, as Federal law is still at odds with the state program, and FCC and other restrictions on cannabis advertising prevent a lot of this from happening.
MedCannReport recognized this early on, and has been a constant advocate for the industry “players” to offer sponsored content and events, free to the public, to engage and educate. it is not only smart, it is the responsible thing to do. Personally, I have always thrown around the line “no one wants to drop dabs on granny”, meaning that no responsible professional wants an ill-informed patient or caregiver buying and using a product that is unfit for their condition, medical recommendation or personal preference. I always throw that around in jest, but the sentiment is genuine. To address this, MedCannReport has sat in countless meetings and private calls with industry representatives, letting them know that a well-planned and aptly delivered message of information and education, fully sponsored by them, would be a prudent move toward a safe, successful, and yes, profitable, medical cannabis program in Maryland. A few have seen the wisdom in this, and fewer still have supported or spearheaded efforts as a result.
But, a large part of the 130+ cannabis industry businesses have been too focused on carving out their own piece of the yet-to-be-baked pie. Your business wants to have us do a video for you to use? Great! Don’t have any money right now to afford it? Not great, but workable! Want to keep it all for yourself and target your own cultivated list of prospective patients and professionals? That’s a problem. The cannabis industry has a unique chance to set a new “normal” for how an industry and a community can work together to allow meaningful outcomes TOGETHER! It isn’t “us” and “them”, it is WE. It is The PATIENT FIRST. It is about pooling resources so that the community can see this for what it is: an important step toward a healthier, happier society.
So, you may be saying: “this sounds a lot like sour grapes”, and yes there is some frustration with being unable to help others see the “big picture”. However, there have been some very real and concerning observations within Maryland thus far that make this a genuine issue for the Industry.
This isn’t about calling out individual businesses or people. it also isn’t about creating tension between a budding industry and a “captive” patient base. It is about helping everyone see the mistakes and potential pitfalls, so that the patient comes first, and the community sees value in what the industry brings.
There are several dispensaries that are opening, or preparing to open soon, and one dispensary (as of this writing) who has opened it’s doors and begun seeing patients for “pre-order consultations.” These dispensaries are the front-facing businesses that will have the first chance to meet and serve their patients. They are in a powerful place to help spread good information and provide real education to their client/patients. However, what has been witnessed thus far has been abysmal. Putting aside the corporations running the dispensaries are striving to build off of free or gathered publicity (i.e. news stories and showing up at various networking events, there is a definite sense of self-promotion which lacks any form of patient engagement and focuses mainly on getting names from residents in their respective districts to show earnings potential to investors and boards. Nothing really wrong with this, aside from its short-sightedness. But SO MUCH more is possible.
A couple of examples: I had the opportunity to attend a dispensary “welcoming event” held in a community center. The people were all nice enough, and there were lots of “swag bags” full of literature and some do dads for people. There were 2 questions upon entry to the event:”Are you a patient, physician, or job seeker?” and “what county do you live in?”. Depending on the answers to these questions, attendees were directed to different parts of the center and various representatives circulated to talk and meet people. I personally witnessed no fewer than 10 attendees (there were maybe 100 in total) be cordially greeted, and promptly left to wander upon announcing they were not residents of the county/district where the dispensary is to be located. Interesting… there is some justification for focusing on ones own neighborhood and building community support. But, with a program that will likely take another year to be fully operational with all dispensaries open, patients may travel across the state to seek medicine and dispensaries should focus on the patient needs and not address or voting district.
At this same event, there was also a golden opportunity to inform and educate the audience about medical cannabis, as well as “sell” their company a bit in an effort to build trust and support of the community. What occurred was far from that. The official program consisted of a few local government officials speaking to their assumed constituents, and brief introductions of key members of the business (Owner, Medical Advisor, etc…). Then, a great video presentation of the science and benefits of medical cannabis was promised. What resulted was a projection of a web browser, showing a couple of YouTube videos that were, I can only assume, chosen at random, and containing hardly any solid or useful information for patients and community members. The business representatives seemed to disappear into the woodwork, and the program was over.
Another example of this lack of foresight and engagement happened in a “consult” with one of the dispensaries. It was explained that this was to be their procedure for patient assessment and focus, giving the impression of how a pharmacist might consult with a patient on a new medicine that their doctor prescribed. Great! Seems like a great chance to get some good information about the medicine and what types of services and offerings this particular dispensary may have in the very near future. Unfortunately, this was not exactly the case. Setting aside the fee (which was explained to be applied toward a voucher for future purchase), the meeting was a bit of a let down. The “consultant” was void of any information, and simply took down some preliminary info (conditions seeking help with, familiarity with cannabis, current medications), and basically said “we’ll call you when we know anything”. I must admit, neither I nor the patient I transported and sat with are expecting them to “know anything” in the near future. The bright spot of the “consult” was the information that was shared with this “consultant” in the form of a very nice brochure. Yes, the PATIENT gave the CONSULTANT a brochure about the different strains and cannabinoid uses of medical cannabis. This brochure was given to the patient by another medical consultant who made their actual qualifying recommendation. I WILL name that medical consultant, as they really seem to be doing good work: CannaCare Docs of Maryland provided the brochure to this patient on the consult visit. It is well-produced, highly informative, and was a great “walk away” for them to provide their patients. To CannaCare Docs- thanks for the assistance, and apologies for giving this particular dispensary any ideas of how things should be done.
The cannabis industry in Maryland has been busy, but I fear they are perhaps too busy at the moment to properly engage and educate their community and patient base. Take note! It is NOT too late. Much more can and should be done. Not just by individual businesses, but by the industry as a whole. It is clear that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has no plan to effectively provide this information and education in a timely manner, or it would have happened already. Meetings with commission members (including the Commissioner, himself) have indicated that there is no current budget or plan to provide the necessary Public Awareness Messages in the near future. This means that dispensaries will begin selling medicine to patients and caregivers who have sought their own education, while the general public stares in disbelief as “weed is sold in Maryland” (an actual quote from a Maryland citizen).
So, there you have it. We are officially calling out the Maryland medical cannabis industry participants and letting you know that if you want to be successful AND help the community, you must do more. And, no, this is not a pitch to engage with MedCannReport to tackle this together, although we plan on being here every step of the way. It is a call to action for patients to be vigilant and understand that the cream will surely rise to the top. Support and encourage those businesses that are serving the public well, and call those out who are not.
Thank you for reading past the “click-bait” title, and I wish you all good health and happiness.