In the weeds with Rob Stanley, GM of Philly’s first medical marijuana dispensary, ReStore

The Star caught up with ReStore’s general manager Rob Stanley to talk about Philly’s booming new pot business, getting a medical marijuana card and what medical ailments can be cured with weed.

Rob Stanley, ReStore’s general manager, stands in the dispensary’s lobby. | Photo by Tom Beck.

About two years after Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf signed into law the legalization of medical marijuana, the very first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Philadelphia on May 30, 2018. The dispensary is called ReStore, and it remains open today in the same Northern Liberties location it was in before. Since that time, ReStore’s opened up a new location in Elkins Park, and a third location in Doylestown is on its way. The Star caught up with ReStore’s general manager Rob Stanley to talk about Philly’s booming new pot business, getting a medical marijuana card and what medical ailments can be cured with weed.

It’s been one year since ReStore opened. How has business been?

It’s been great. The first few months that we were open it was a little bit slower than we thought, but that was just people going through the process of getting a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania. They also introduced dry flower as an another form of medical marijuana for patients to use. So business has been picking up and pretty much just chugging along since. We’ve had a really good turnout especially for our anniversary day. Business has been good.

What is dry flower?

Dry flower is what they call buds. Its weed. It’s green weed. But for Department of Health we have to call a flower. You’re supposed to vaporize it in Pennsylvania. You’re not supposed to smoke it necessarily from like a water pipe or something along those lines. You’re supposed to do dry flower vaporization as the approved form of consumption, according to the Department of Health

What are some like ailments that medical marijuana is good for the people might not know about?

There’s 21 approved conditions right now by the Department of Health. The rumor is they’re going to be actually adding a couple new conditions far as anxiety and insomnia and migraines, but we have everything. Autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD is a big one and then they just added opioid dependency last year. So we’re seeing some of the folks that are trying to get off of opioids that are coming in for pain management and stuff and that seems like it’s been really beneficial for a lot of those patients coming in also.

What’s the process like for getting my medical marijuana card?

Well, you do have to have one of the qualifying conditions to get a medical marijuana card. Then you have to go to see a doctor who is registered with the Department of Health to prescribe your medical marijuana card. They’ll go through everything with you, see that you are qualified, then prescribe you your medical marijuana card with a couple of recommendations that they suggest [regarding] the form of consumption or the type of marijuana that you’re going to be taking. Then when you come to ReStore, we require that you do a consultation with a pharmacist one-on-one, and they’ll go through your doctor’s notes and make sure that everything is lined up with what your doctor was prescribing you and then we kind of come up with a plan of care going forward.

The reason I ask is because people often think it’s pretty easy to get ahold of a medical marijuana card with just a wink and a nod. Is it that easy?

There had there been a couple instances where there have been some physicians that I think were a little bit more loose with how they’re prescribing cards, but the Department of Health is doing a really good job of tightening that up and having a little bit more oversight and taking care of it. Even here, we send people to doctors who we know have had good reputations. There’s some doctor practices that take care of veterans who will do a lower price. It’s normally about $200 to see the doctor and have their prescription for the card. Some of the folks who we deal with are lower income or on fixed incomes and also medical marijuana isn’t covered by any insurance. So we do offer a lot of different discounts with veterans and seniors, SSI, SSDI, SNAP, to help offset those costs.

We’re trying to look for doctors who aren’t just doing it to make a couple bucks off it with a wink and a nod and take people’s money. We’re sending them to places where doctors will follow up with patients, same thing with our pharmacist here.

If I wanted to apply for a medical marijuana card today and I have one of the improved conditions, how long would it take to acquire?

It normally doesn’t take longer than two weeks. You have to register on the Department of Health website and then you would go to see the registered doctor. They would approve you and they pretty much do it in their office where they’re linked to the Department of Health. We’ve seen turnaround for a card seemed to turn around for a card anywhere from three days to about a week and a half. So it’s about two weeks.

I’m sure there’s a lot of rules and regulations for this especially because it’s an unprecedented thing. This is the first this is the first weed dispensary in the city. Was there a lot of red tape to cut through?

There’s a lot of red tape. The Department of Health having such a young program – I think that they were kind of figuring out all their rules and regulations as well. We originally opened up as an ‘integrated wellness center.’ We wanted to have a treatment room over here and a wellness room where we were going to be doing yoga classes, acupuncture, massage therapy – different stuff like that. But then that kind of changed. The Department of Health didn’t want that in the same building as medical marijuana. We were originally approved for it, but right before we opened we were told me we couldn’t do it anymore, so we had to change the whole way of thinking with everything. If we had a separate entrance to the building we could do something like that, but if it’s in the same building we can’t do it.

Have people been happy with the medicine?

I think everybody’s been happy with the medicine. The one thing [people have been unhappy with] has been the prices, but I think as you see some more grower/processors come into the fold, you’re going to see a lot of the prices go down. They started kind of high and unfortunately that’s again why we do a lot of the discounts that we do to help people be able to afford it. But the quality has been really, really good. There’s a lot of grower/processors doing a lot of really good stuff with it. It’s just the price was a sticking point, but now you’re starting to see the prices come down a little bit, which has been really really good.

Why are there so many different strains of marijuana to choose from on ReStore’s menu? Is there a purpose for that?

Each strain is going to have a different benefit for you. There’s a purpose for it. Some are a cross breed between different strains. So if one thing’s crossbred with another thing it might give you the different benefit of helping with your appetite and also [improving] sleep and different things like that. We find it very important to put whether it’s a sativa, Indica or a hybrid on the menu and to make sure it’s noted with what the strain is so people can do their own research before they come to the dispensary if they want to and to also give our dispensary agents who work here the knowledge and the information so they can do their own research and be able to know what they’re talking about when people come in.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.