Marijuana dispensaries working to cut cost amid constricted supply

Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788 in June, legalizing the growing, processing and sale of medical marijuana in the state. Supply hasn’t yet caught up to demand for the drug, leading to price gouging and some creative efforts by dispensaries to lower costs until market prices stabilize.

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Enid, Okla. — Little more than two weeks into the first medical marijuana sales in Enid, local dispensary owners are working to keep costs down as they wait for supply of the herbal drug to catch up with demand.

Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health and a medical marijuana advocate, told CNHI Oklahoma last week Oklahoma dispensaries are selling medical cannabis for about $400 to $450 an ounce, when the drug ideally should sell for about $150 an ounce.

Oklahoma law requires medical marijuana sold in the state to be grown here, and growers haven’t had time to grow sufficient supply to drive down prices in the market.

A News & Eagle survey of three dispensaries now open in Enid found prices lower than the state average quoted by Paul. Medical marijuana is selling here for $8-$15 per gram or $200 to $380 per ounce, depending on strain, quality and dispensary pricing.

Kandra Patterson and Brooke Stephens, sisters and owners of Soul Sisters Dispensary at 120 W. Randolph, said they’re trying to keep their margins as low as possible until wholesale prices drop, so customers who have been waiting for medical marijuana can benefit from the drug.

Both sisters have personal reasons for wanting to share the drug with their customers.

Stephens was first prescribed opioids for pain related to scoliosis when she was 16 years old. As an adult, she made a trip to Colorado to try medical marijuana, and with its assistance she has been able to come off the opioids without any withdrawal or side effects.

But, she said she’s most grateful for the difference she’s seen it make for her sister.

When Patterson was 25 years old, after the birth of her first child, she was diagnosed with a slew of autoimmune disorders, including lupus, Crohn’s disease and cachexia, known as “wasting away syndrome.”

She suffered muscle loss and her organs started shutting down. Multiple surgeries did little good, Patterson said, and prescriptions for combinations of more than 20 opioid pain killers and steroids also did little more than damage her liver and kidneys.

Patterson underwent chemotherapy in hopes of “resetting” her immune system, but the disorders persisted.

The 5-foot, 7-inch mother wasted down to 88 pounds, and with little hope of any treatment for the effects of her disorder she started end-of-life planning.

As a last resort, she went with her sister to Colorado to try the effects of medical marijuana. She was stunned by the results.

“I was a little beside myself, because it was working like they said it would,” Patterson said. “My expectations were pretty low, but I was blown out of the water.”

She was able to eat and sleep normally, and come off her prescription pain medicine. “I was kind of back to normal,” she said.

Now that medical marijuana is legal in Oklahoma, Patterson is passionate about making it available to others, and wants to keep it as affordable as possible.

“I knew it would help me, and I was so excited,” Patterson said. “Medical marijuana allows me to be who I was before I got sick.”

Cory Frisbee, owner of Natural Remedies MMJ at 404B N. Grand, said offering the medicinal benefits of marijuana was his motivation when he opened his dispensary on Nov. 16.

“As long as my wife and I have known each other we’ve been aware of medical marijuana’s benefits, and have been for it,” Frisbee said. “We wanted to be here and kind of pioneer it.”

Frisbee said he prepared himself for a long, bureaucratic process to gain his license to sell medical marijuana.

“It wasn’t at all what I expected,” Frisbee said. “It was much easier than I thought it would be, and it progressed a lot quicker than what we expected.”

He said it took two weeks to obtain the dispensary license through Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) and another eight weeks to finish registering with Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD).

While the licensing process was a pleasant surprise, Frisbee said he was not-so-pleasantly surprised by wholesale prices for Oklahoma-grown marijuana.

“The price was too high,” Frisbee said. “There were only a handful of growers out of the 1,200 licensed growers in Oklahoma that actually had product, and they could charge whatever they wanted.”

He said marijuana still is selling for up to $4,000 per pound, when comparable product can be had for $800 per pound in states like Colorado and California.

Frisbee hopes wholesale prices will fall in February, when more growers bring their marijuana harvest to market.

“We have to survive as a business,” Frisbee said, “and when prices fall for us, they’ll fall for the customer as well.”

Tracy Ullrich, owner of Green Seed Cannabis Co., at 721 S. Oakwood, Ste. A-2, which opened in April and started selling medical marijuana Nov. 19, agreed the licensing process was relatively smooth.

“It was super easy,” Ullrich said. “(State Question) 788 was written to make this simple for the consumer and the businesses. I was impressed with how everything was handled. It was done quickly and efficiently.”

Ullrich said he averted supply problems by pre-signing agreements with producers who started growing hemp last April, when that became legal. Once those growers could grow plants with higher concentrations of the psychotropic compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), beginning in September, Ullrich said they had a leg up on other growers.

“People who grew for the first time when they got their license in September were still practicing,” Ullrich said. “They started practicing in April, and it was an easy transition.”

Ullrich was less optimistic than Frisbee about the timeline for medical marijuana market prices to stabilize in Oklahoma. Once OBNDD begins regulatory inspections of growers, Ullrich said he expects some will be set back or shut down, which could again constrict supply.

He expects it to take six months to a year “realistically, to get good quality product” in quantities that meet demand.

Stephens, at Soul Sisters, said they’ve found a way to overcome that wait for expanded growers’ harvests: they grow their own.

By having both a growing and dispensary license, Stephen said she and Patterson are able to use greater margins on product they grow themselves to offset the cost of other strains, and keep their prices overall as low as possible for customers.

“We have it a lot easier because we have the capability to grow our own product,” Stephens said. “We’re working with other bigger growers to see where we can continue to get costs down, because it is very expensive to get started.”

Patterson said as a business owner it makes sense to keep prices low for the customers. But, as someone who credits her life to the effects of medical marijuana, she said there’s a greater reason in play.

“At the end of the day, this is medication,” she said, “and everyone deserves medication no matter their situation.”

Note: This post originally ran as a news article in the Dec. 5, 2018 issue of the Enid News & Eagle.

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