Med-cannabis dispensary thrives in PA market amid growing patient size, limited product

Ioannis Pashakis//August 31, 2021

Med-cannabis dispensary thrives in PA market amid growing patient size, limited product

Ioannis Pashakis//August 31, 2021

An inside view of Fluent’s Hanover dispensary, the Miami-based medical marijuana organization’s highest revenue generator. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Miami-based medical marijuana dispensary Fluent operates 28 storefronts throughout Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Michigan, but its highest revenue generating store has been its only Pennsylvanian location in Hanover. 

Fluent opened its Hanover dispensary in 2018 and quickly found success selling medical marijuana to Pennsylvania’s registered patients, many of whom are willing to drive hours for the right product, said Robert Beasley, CEO of Fluent. 

“That store is amazing in its growth considering the size of the community it’s in,” he said. “Pennsylvania patients don’t mind driving. When you look at the population the store serves, it’s from an enormous geographic area.” 

Part of the store’s high patient numbers can be attributed to cultivation and production in Pennsylvania being unable to keep up with the state’s rapidly increasing number of patients, said Beasley. 

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana laws currently allow the state to register 35 grower/processors of medical marijuana including 10 clinical registrants, allowed to grow, process and sell medical marijuana in partnership with certified academic clinical research centers. 

Pennsylvania has yet to max out on its number of grower/processors, which currently stands in the high 20’s, said Luke Shultz, a member of the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board and a chronic pain patient registered through the program. 

The storefront of Fluent’s new Mechanicsburg dispensary. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Grower/processors can legally expand their operations as far as the property they are situated on allows, but Pennsylvania does not allow growers to purchase separate lots for expansion. 

“Of the first 12 or 13 initial permitted growers, almost all of them, if not all of them, have expanded their operations,” said Shultz. “Supply should be getting better in the next couple of months assuming we don’t have a drastic expansion in patients.”  

For now, that means that if a patient finds that a certain medical marijuana works best for them, they may have to shop at numerous stores or be willing to drive out of town.  

As a patient, Shultz, who lives in Reading, has seen that issue first hand. 

“I have had trouble getting certain products from time to time,” he said. “A few weeks ago, I couldn’t find something in the Reading area and had to travel to Lebanon.” 

After three years of operation in Hanover, Fluent opened its second Pennsylvania dispensary in Mechanicsburg last month. The larger store spans 3,000 square feet and could staff as many as 15 to 18 employees at peak times compared to Hanover’s 10. 

The biggest difference in the Mechanicsburg location is that Fluent paid attention to Pennsylvania’s inventory problems when building the facility and outfitted it with a much larger product vault, allowing the dispensary to buy products more periodically and hopefully tackle the state’s supply issues. 

“We really focused on this inventory issue,” said Beasley. “When a supplier is ready to push product but our vaults are full like in Hanover, we can’t take the product.” 

A larger vault is more expensive for a company, adding to the cost of construction, but allows the dispensary to buy more from a supplier and receive a higher ratio of higher-class products, said Beasley.  

“The supplier knows what they have. They know they have the flower everyone wants and they know what their hot products are,” he said. “Often, to move up in priority you will need to buy a higher ratio of products. They want you to buy a compliment of products.” 

Most of Pennsylvania’s grower/processors still have room to expand. As that room diminishes, it may be necessary for the state to look at increasing its number of authorized growers and processors, something that the state legislature is currently in charge of, said Shultz. 

The current limit of 25 grower/processors and 10 clinical registrants was agreed upon by the advisory board early in the program’s life, any future changes were left to the state legislature. 

“They should give serious consideration to either adding more permits outright or giving that responsibility back to the board or the Department of Health directly,” he said.