Ohio voters’ decision to legalize medical marijuana has created a Wild West with new frontiers being carved and quartered by a growing caravan of ambitious pioneers, all racing to establish themselves amid a budding industry.
For Green Leaf Apothecaries and its growing number of dispensaries, they’ve already established themselves as the new business model’s standard bearers.
“Our grand vision has always been to be the true north of this program,” attests cofounder Dave Neundorfer.
His latest venture finds him as one of four companies awarded dispensary licenses in Ohio, but it’s under a different company’s banner that they market themselves. This is possible after licensing the brand and likeness of preexisting national dispensary, The Botanist, for the multiple Green Leaf dispensaries they they’ve recently opened across the state.
For Neundorfer, who is also the owner and operator of cleantech firm Neundorfer Incorporated, medical marijuana presented a “fascinating opportunity to be part of a brand new market and be one of the first businesses involved in building it.”
His retail interests found a kindred spirit in Kate Nelson whose personal history led her to become one of the Green Leaf’s fellow founders.
Shortly after graduating from law school with a focus on medical marijuana legislation, Nelson became caretaker to her grandmother who was suffering through stage four bone cancer.
“Towards the end of her life we talked with her doctor to see if medical marijuana would be an option,” she recounts. “His response was ‘well, it could be, but it’s not legal here and I don’t know enough about it.’ She passed away shortly afterwards and was never able to find out if medical cannabis could have been an alternative to the morphine she was on.”
At first glance, Neundorfer’s world of button-down plaids and khakis appears in contrast to Nelson’s laid-back jeans and oversized military fatigue jacket, but the two have been able to produce a whole larger that sum of its parts. Along with their spouses, they applied for the proper cultivation and dispensary permits. After licensing the more established The Botanist brand for their stores, the quartet was soon serving as the de facto Fleetwood Mac of medical marijuana for the region.
Facilities in Akron and Columbus will soon join the three dispensaries Green Leaf has already established in Wickliffe, Cleveland and Canton. The sheer population of Cleveland makes Green Leaf’s Botanist inclusion elementary, but the motivation behind the Wickliffe store, which tracks approximately 90 patients a day, proved perceptive to the varying needs of the communities Green Leaf selects to enter.
“Mayor Barbish has been arms wide open with this and there was no push back from Council either,” Nelson explains. “They know that Wickliffe not only has an older generation population that may have a need for an alternative, but also wanted something to be a part of the community that would contribute in a positive way.”
Neundorfer wants the company to be more intrinsic to the cities they serve. He expresses an interest in supporting the Cleveland Food Bank and WeCanCodeIt, which trains people to better adapt to an increasingly tech-savvy workplace. He is mindful to add that these philanthropic ambitions won’t turn to action until their Botanist facilities can reach “steady state profitability.”
Our interview takes place at the Cleveland facility on Lakeside Avenue hours before its grand opening to the public. More industrial than its Wickliffe strip mall counterpart, both storefronts are nondescript by design. Their lobbies invite the public to discuss general questions about obtaining a marijuana card through a physician, but they’re not interested in foot traffic.
Only those with valid marijuana cards are allowed entry into the actual storeroom, which best resembles an Apple store a few days into the post-apocalypse. Sleek display cases and checkout counters are flanked by walls of sprawling ivy and potted plants. Amid the foliage, a trained staff member explains the different strains of marijuana they have available and the different effects they produce to first-time patient customers.
According to Nuendorfer, their CBD-heavy products are far outperforming those that are THC-leaning. “Our most popular strain is one that minimizes the psychoactive effects and maximizes the health benefits of anti-inflammation and anti-anxiety.”
For him, this speaks to the efficacy of medical marijuana as well as the legitimacy of the patient’s needs. “The stigma that this is going to be ‘wink-wink’ medical just doesn’t hold up.”
The shifting public perception appears to be paying off for Green Leaf. Of the approximately 20,000 patients signed up to receive medical marijuana cards in Ohio, only 5,400 have entered a dispensary yet. According to company records, half of those who have entered a dispensary have done so through one of their Botanist facilities.
The group expects these numbers to increase once more processed products such as tinctures, edibles, transdermal patches, and capsules become available. At the moment, only the plant flower is accessible as Green Leaf awaits processing licenses to come into effect, which they think will occur by the beginning of April.
Green Leaf’s Chief Compliance & Communications Officer Caroline Henry spoke on the processed products’ popularity. “I think people are more comfortable with processed forms than they are with flower that, to them, they’ve never tried before.”
Once processing licenses are approved, Henry envisions the actual marijuana flower being “a very small fraction” of the products that they will be offering.
Other products that are quickly proving mainstays are accessories, like grinders and vaporizers. While medical marijuana is legal, smoking it is not. Patients are instead allowed to vaporize the plant material and then inhale.
“We usually give [vaporizer] tutorials every 15 minutes just because people may not be familiar,” Nelson details. “We’ll teach them how to use them, as well as grinders, make sure they’re comfortable with it. For many people, this is the first time they’ve ever purchased, not only cannabis, let alone anything that’s consumed like this.”
Neuendorfer breaks down how the cultivators, processors, and dispensaries establish the eventual retail costs. He tosses around terms like “free market economy,” “value chains,” and the “laws of supply and demand.” It comes as little surprise that their dispensary menu gives a wide berth of street prices. With everything appearing to run slightly above street value, an ounce from The Botanist runs approximately $500. This effectively removes any potential profit margin that could be gained by attempting to sell resell it on the black market.
There are currently 21 conditions that a patient can qualify to be prescribed medical marijuana. Green Leaf representatives cite chronic pain as the most frequently-stated cause among their customers. Despite it being seen as such a frequent cause, not every state that has approved medical marijuana allows chronic pain as a qualifying condition.
“A lot of states that didn’t include chronic pain did not see the patient adoption rates that Ohio has,” Henry states. “I think the program did a great job including chronic pain in their initial rollout of conditions.”
More conditions are being considered, including depression and opiate addiction, but the full medical scope of marijuana’s potential remains bottlenecked at a federal level due to its Schedule 1 classification. The Drug Enforcement Agency claims that it has “no currently accepted medical use.”
This severely limits the ability to run large scale clinical trials that would work to prove the benefits of medical marijuana at comprehensive national levels. It is an outdated assessment that proves wildly tone deaf considering the thousands of medical prescriptions Green Leaf’s multiple Botanist facilities fill. With medical marijuana legal in 31 other states, Neundorfer and Nelson’s ambitious venture proves the latest spark promising to light a much larger fire.
Medical marijuana is a new subject for many. Naturally, our first instinct was to make a cheat sheet.
SATIVA: Consider the two main strains of marijuana like the Odd Couple. Sativa is definitely the Felix Unger. It offers a lighter effect that, while still potent, is favored for those that want to be able to get high and still remain functional without totally vegging out.
INDICA: Totally the Oscar Madison of this equation. As comedian and weed connoisseur Doug Benson explained, it’s called Indica because it puts you “in-da-couch.” Its sedative quality makes it effective in treating insomnia, arthritis, and chronic pain.
THC (TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL): The active component in marijuana, the level of THC determines the psychoactive potency of the strain. Flower buds of the plant have a typical percentage anywhere from around 15 to 25 percent. Vape pens have a much higher potency, with some reaching levels over 90 percent.
CBD (CANNABIDIOL): This chemical component in marijuana is responsible for many of the actual medicinal effects like anti-inflammation and nausea relief. In fact, CBD also works to counteract many of the psychoactive effects that THC poses.
VAPORIZERS: According to Ohio law, you’re still not allowed to smoke medical marijuana with a typical lighter and bowl. You are, however, able to inhale the smoke in vapor form.
PROCESSED PRODUCTS: Once The Botanist gains its processing license, a wide variety of non-smoking alternatives will be available including edibles, vape pens, chewing gum, and transdermal patches.
ROTATION: To the left-hand side; always, to the left-hand side.