The legalization of marijuana is a hot topic now in Jersey City and the state of New Jersey. It’s a topic we’ve been covering extensively on the blog and most recently partnered with CannaGather NJ a resource for all things cannabis to bring networking and educational events to Jersey City.
At our first event a month ago, I met Leslie Hoffman, the Communications Director of Harmony Dispensary in Secaucus, the 6th Medicinal Marijuana dispensary in the state. She invited us to tour the facilities.
When we arrived to the dispensary, we were buzzed in through a locked door, then we were greeted by dispensary employees behind a glass window that are there to check your State Medicinal Marijuana ID. Then you go through another door and you’re in the dispensary.
As soon as I walked in, the scent of fresh cannabis hit my nose, I felt like a kid in a candy store. One day, cannabis will be accessible for adult use, and soon this will be the norm.
What’s your name?
My name is Leslie Hoffman. I’m the Communications Director of Harmony Dispensary in Secaucus.
How long has Harmony Dispensary been around?
We opened our doors to the public on June 18th, 2018. We’re excited to have you visit because it’s very important to us that the patients in NJ know that we are here. We’re open 7 days a week from 10 AM to 9 PM. We’re trying to provide the most convenient and efficient experience for patients possible.
It smells so good in here!
“Clean” is our motto. We run a biosecure growing environment. To go into the back, people strip down to under-clothes, and then enter through an air shower. Our aim is to keep all bio-contamination out of our facility. Once inside, they put on clean uniforms every time they enter. We spend on laundry, but it is worth it!
How has it been in the last three weeks since you’ve opened?
It’s exhilarating, and we feel like we’re meeting a pent-up demand in the state. As you can imagine, we’ve been growing plants since October 15th of last year, so we have a sizable amount of inventory ready to dispense. It’s the next phase in our growth and development as a company. We’re ecstatic to be open and serving patients’ needs. We want all of the physicians as well as the patients to be aware that Harmony Dispensary is an option.
So what’s the process?
There’s a list of conditions that allow a patient to have medical marijuana recommended for them by a physician. The rules about who can recommend it have changed and will keep changing under the Murphy administration. His program is really progressive. You need to see a physician, and the range of conditions is quite wide at this point. It includes PTSD, chronic pain and anxiety, which many people suffer from. These are things that are real, people know when they have them or they certainly can express the range of issues that result from them. If you go to a physician and suffer from these conditions, or others on the list, marijuana can be recommended. There’s a tremendous value in not getting your medicine from the black market – you don’t know where it came from, you don’t know who touched it. How you react to medicines is a very unique thing. At Harmony Dispensary, we don’t tell you how our medicine is going to make you feel, what we can tell you its Indica/Sativa mix. We can tell you what the lab results are. We can tell you what it smells like, tastes like, or looks like. When you come to us asking what you should try, we encourage people to go slow to start and try a range to see what you like and what each one makes you feel. I always tell people, “If you get to a place where you don’t like how it makes you feel, I recommend having a cup of tea, take a nap, wake up in the morning and you’ll feel fine. Maybe it’s just not the strain you like.”
People get a prescription, and then…
They get a recommendation from a doctor, they go to the State and take the recommendation from the doctor to be processed with all the required information. The State will issue you a card, your NJMMP card. People come to us for information to figure out what will work for them, and we walk them through the process. Come with your card and ID, and we’ll sit down and talk to you confidentially if you prefer. Otherwise, our “cannabis technicians” as we call them are knowledgeable and can help guide a patient. We package our products in a simple rice paper bag that is sealed. We sell pure, high quality flower. Right now we have eight strains with more in the pipeline and many more to come. And we will offer more products over time, as well. We currently sell all of our products packaged five ways – you can buy pure flower, 1/8 oz, 1/4 oz, pre-ground flower, or pre-rolled cones.
Do you do edibles?
We have not yet gone through the process of setting up our extractions. That’ll be coming. We have plans to expand, and this is the beginning.
Have you always been in this type of industry?
I’ve been familiar with this industry for a very long time. In the early 90s, I started a hemp fashion company and ran that until Woody Harrelson came in and bought all the inventory. I also worked for a philanthropist, so I had the opportunity to support drug policy reform initiatives.
How do you feel about everything going on, with the possibility of cannabis being legal for recreational use in NJ? Will that change what you guys do?
I’m personally in favor of it, especially from a social justice perspective and economic perspective. From a business perspective, we will participate as the State creates regulations. We’re assuming that our production is ultimately going to be the kickstarter of a viable adult use industry. We’re focused on the medicinal side, want more medical research and we’re providing a pharmaceutical grade product. We create pure, consistent, and effective modern medicine. I’m in favor of regulation and oversight, I want safety for the public and individuals, and I think the quality of what you consume matters. I also basically am opposed to illicit markets.
What kind of training do your cannabis technicians go through?
They’re trained with our team here, so they learn about how we do what we do in the back. They’re well-read and some of them have worked in other dispensaries. We’re taking this angle where we don’t tell you how this medicine is going to make you feel because it’s different for everyone, so we really emphasize the way we grow it and where it comes from.
What about patients who aren’t interested in getting high but want the other components?
We’re collecting patient feedback constantly. We provide a place on our website for patients to give us feedback on how the medicine makes them feel. We explain the Entourage Effect to them, but understand that some people do react well to a psychoactive effect. We’re growing new strains based on feedback.
What are common misconceptions about the use of medical cannabis that you’ve heard?
I think we’ve all heard about the stigma. I would say there are a lot of patients who just don’t know about marijuana to help their comfort and functionality because of lack of experience or exposure. They don’t know that this medicine can provide relief for conditions they have, and instead they’re either suffering or taking medicines that are harmful or addictive. Lack of awareness is a big one. People often say, “I didn’t know New Jersey had a medical marijuana program.” We’ve had it since 2010, and the first dispensary opened in 2012.
It’s true, it’s not well-known.
Chris Christie didn’t believe in it. He inherited a bill that got signed as he stepped into office and basically did nothing to support it. We now have a Commissioner of Health moving around the State doing grand rounds with doctors, encouraging them to encourage their patients to try cannabis. If you think about it, marijuana is somewhere between an aspirin and an opioid.
Physicians are very quick to prescribe medications.
Right. Hopefully physicians, with all the news on the opioid crisis, are starting to become more cautious about it and are watching what patients are doing.
Then they don’t make money. Wouldn’t that hurt the pharmaceutical industry?
Well, the pharmaceutical industry and doctors have had a very cozy relationship for decades. Hopefully, we’re starting to understand that a little bit of decoupling, education, new drug research and development are important. Education of what these new drugs are is important. When I read how pharma knew how addictive opiates are and the fact that they become less effective the more you take them, that tells you the harm in encouraging physicians to prescribe and prescribe more.
People say marijuana is a gateway drug. What would you say about that misconception?
I believe that marijuana will become known as the exit-ramp drug for a lot of people who are in pain of one kind or another. I don’t think it’s just severe physical pain, I think what happens is that it becomes a crutch for some painful emotions. It won’t cure all addictions, I’m sure, but if you need to ease off and need a little bit of something, marijuana might actually be worth trying. People are starting to study it and are considering recommending it in medical circles. I’ll say straight up that I’m not a doctor, so I defer but encourage reliance on science.
Awesome. Is there anything else people should know about Harmony?
We’re a mile from the Secaucus Junction train station. We have loads of parking. We need more and more doctors to think about recommending medical marijuana as an alternative to other things they would recommend. Our location is convenient to where about 40% of the state population lives, and I want to make sure patients are aware we’re here.
Learn more about Harmony Dispensary on their website, and get more information on Harmony Dispensary and the cannabis industry at the next Cannagather event! Join us on July 31st at Zeppelin Hall for dinner, drinks, networking, and more.