Metro-East News

Strict security in place at metro-east’s first medical cannabis dispensary

Tour Collinsville's Medical Marijuana Dispensary

The first medical Marijuana dispensary in the metro-east is ready to open. HCI Alternatives plans to open in the middle of January. The secure facility plans to offer a wide variety of cannabis related items including gels, lotions, and edibles.
Up Next
The first medical Marijuana dispensary in the metro-east is ready to open. HCI Alternatives plans to open in the middle of January. The secure facility plans to offer a wide variety of cannabis related items including gels, lotions, and edibles.

The first medical marijuana dispensary ready to open in the metro-east held a media-only open house Wednesday at its new retail facility in Eastport Plaza.

HCI Alternatives plans to offer a wide variety of cannabis-related items to provide therapy and symptom relief for 39 severe medical conditions, including AIDS, Rheumatoid arthritis, fibrous dysplasia, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome and multiple sclerosis.

HCI plans to open the new facility somewhere between Jan. 20 — its target date — and the end of the month.

Collinsville Mayor John Miller toured the facility Wednesday and said he was impressed with what he saw.

“I think it’s a secure facility, and I think if it helps the people the law is targeting, then I think it is a good thing,” Miller said.

The HCI facility occupies a former insurance office at 1014 Eastport Plaza, just a stone’s throw from the regional headquarters of the Illinois State Police.

When visitors step through the dispensary’s front door, they enter a foyer with a snack bar stocked with cookies and brownies on the left and couches along the wall, which is painted a soothing shade of light blue, while the tiled carpeting is a sand-colored hue.

We’re taking care of patients. these people are sick. So we don’t want them suffering coming through here and thinking were trying to do something that’s not helping them, helping their health...We wanted to make it a spa-like feel.

Jay Cook, HCI’s director of education and community outreach

Jay Cook, HCI’s director of education and community outreach, led a visitor toward the reception window.

Cook paused a moment to describe the protocol for dispensary customers.

“They make sure there are two forms of ID,” Cook said. “They’ll have a seat. Either a patient care technician will come out and get the patient or security will let them through the sally port. So this is a secure area.”

Cook moved through a door that, once the dispensary opens for business, will be locked and monitored. On the door’s other side is a large, brightly lit room full of glass display cases — empty on this visit — that in a few weeks will contain a wide range of cannabis-related products for patients, including gels, transdermal patches lotions and vaporizers. A refrigerated display case will contain brownies and other edibles.

“We wanted to make sure this looked like a high-end clinic,” he said. “We’re taking care of patients. these people are sick. So we don’t want them suffering coming through here and thinking were trying to do something that’s not helping them, helping their health...We wanted to make it a spa-like feel. And I think we did a pretty good job here.”

Cook pointed to three desks parked on the other side of the room. Behind each desk will sit patient care technicians who will consult with customers on their medical conditions, “what kind of strain they’re interested in, what kind of symptoms they’re having so we can tailor-make their medication for them,” he said. “Then they come out here, pick out what they want, come over here to our point-of-sale system. We’ll scan the product, we’ll scan their cards, so we’ll keep track of what the patients are using.”

The largest group of customers to visit the dispensary will be those suffering from cancer, followed by patients with muscular-skeletal disorders, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

Because no private or public insurance plans cover medical cannabis, customers will have to pay out of pocket for a product with an average price tag of $400 per ounce. Patients who need financial help might qualify for programs within HCI that provide discounted prices.

“But that is a program that they will provide information to us, and our general manager will decide what kind of discount we’ll provide,” Cook said.

At the end of each business day, all unsold inventory will be removed from the display cases, sorted and scanned, and locked away in a vault under 24/7 video monitoring, both from the inside and outside.

Because no private or public insurance plans cover medical cannabis, customers will have to pay out of pocket for a product with an average price tag of $400 per ounce. Patients who need financial help might qualify for programs within HCI that provide discounted prices.

The other state-authorized medical cannabis dispensary for the metro-east is TGS, which has finished erecting a new facility in Sauget, in the Archview Medical Center complex, the office park that contains the stadium where the Gateway Grizzlies minor league baseball team plays.

Tanya Griffin, the Illinois manager for the Colorado firm that owns TGS, said her firm plans to open Feb. 1 and hire between 10 and 20 full- and part-time workers, including a manager and security guards, for the retail store.

Meanwhile, the growth of the market for medical cannabis continues to grow slowly. The Illinois Department of Public Health, or IDPH, announced on its website Wednesday that it approved applications for approximately 4,000 qualifying patients — an increase of 400 patients since a month ago — including 26 people under 18 years of age, since it began accepting applications for the Medical Cannabis Registry Program on Sept. 2, 2014. About 5,200 individuals have submitted a complete application to IDPH.

HCI and other medical cannabis entrepreneurs are hoping those numbers will grow sharply in the months ahead. They acknowledge that the only way that will happen is if many more physicians show a willingness to sign the cannabis registry cards and use cannabis as a medical treatment option.

Cook said he believes that will eventually happen once physicians start realizing that they won’t get in trouble for certifying patients for medical cannabis, which is still, technically, illegal under federal law and which has, until recently, been the target of federal Drug Enforcement Administration crackdowns.

“It’s part of my job to go out to the physicians and to explain to them what we’re doing here and how cannabis affects their patients,” he said. “And once the patients get that information back to the physicians and they’ll start opening up and loosening up and knowing that they’re not going to get in trouble with the DEA, that they’re only certifying the patients, that they’re not prescribing medical cannabis.”

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

  Comments