LEICESTER - Cultivate Holdings Inc. on Main Street is the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in Worcester County.
The heavily-secured facility, located in a 23,000-square-foot former tool and die shop at 1764 Main St., has marijuana cultivation, processing and dispensary under one roof. The business is along the western portion of Route 9, one of the commercial zoning districts where medical marijuana facilities are allowed.
"We grow it here. We’re extracting it here and packaging and selling it right out the front door. It’s like farm to table, but in the cannabis world," 24-year-old Sam Barber, company president, said Tuesday.
The business opened Friday, and is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Mr. Barber said about 40 clients from throughout the state visit the business each day.
"People in Worcester County are driving an hour to Northampton or to Newton, the nearest locations. And when they get there, they end up waiting an hour in line to be served," he said. "We’re seeing people from all over the state who just want to check out the next new spot and see what new products are out there."
The company, formerly called Natural HealthCare, offers nine strains of the cannabis flower that have varying percentages of THC and CBD that result in different effects. For instance, different strains are used for body relaxation, pain relief, better focus or improved creativity.
The company is working on 20 to 30 other product lines, including edibles, to be available in the next few months.
Clients must have current government-issued identification and a state medical marijuana license before they are allowed to enter the dispensary. Once they are inside, the business creates a profile of the client in their database.
Suzanne Melanson, dispensary manager, said for many patients it's a matter of trial and error to find the right strain for their ailment. Customers are offered a journal so they can track what works for them and at what dosage. Company employees cannot recommend a particular strain.
"The patient advocate here guides them. We can speak to them about how other patients have benefited from the medicine," she said.
Ms. Melanson said her 19-year-old son, who has attention deficit disorder, has been able to cut his medication in half by taking a particular strain of marijuana. It also stimulates his appetite and helps him sleep better, she said. He and his twin sister were born prematurely, and his sister had a full spinal fusion operation a couple of years ago. Instead of using opioids to deal with chronic pain and inflammation, she uses other strains of medical marijuana, Ms. Melanson said.
Jennifer S. Grace of Leominster, a former hospice and home-care nurse in the Worcester and Boston areas for 10 years, now works as a patient assistant at Cultivate. She said she saw a tremendous need for better pain control and better symptom management.
"A lot of patients in pain don't want to take pain medication because of the side effects, including depression and constipation," she said. "And when they're medicated, they don't feel like they are part of their surroundings. They're out of it. They're med-headed. A lot of people don't like to have that feeling. Medical marijuana provides pain relief without those side effects."
Mr. Barber said several customers have been veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The company offers several discounts, including one for veterans. There is also a discount for senior citizens and a hardship discount calculated on a sliding scale. Prices range from $15 for pre-rolled medical marijuana cigarettes to $50 for 1/8 of an ounce to $350 for 1 ounce.
"Everyday I hear a new story about how this is changing people's lives ... helping them to be able to get up in the morning and live their life in a better way," Mr. Barber said. "Going at this from the beginning, we saw there is a huge benefit, but we need to get rid of the stigma of marijuana in general. There is this idea that it's bad. But we see a lot of the positive that is coming from it."
He said he has been working on the business for about four years. He applied for a license in 2015. He spent another 18 months working with the town. Under the host agreement, the company will pay the town an annual impact fee of $50,000, effective the 13th month after opening.
Mr. Barber said the business has also created 20 jobs and expects to hire 30 more people in the next few months. He said "thousands" of people applied for the jobs. There were more than 600 applicants just for the job of assistant manager, he said. Many of the employees are from Leicester and surrounding towns, he added.
The Portland, Maine, native commutes from Boston. He earned a bachelor of science degree in business and entrepreneurship from Babson College in Wellesley in 2016. His partners are his father, Steve Barber, former operator of Barber Foods, a chicken processing company in Portland that was sold to Tyson Foods; and Robert Lally, owner of Mount Abram ski area in Maine.
Mr. Barber said the partners plan to extend their business to offer recreational marijuana when it is allowed by the state next year.