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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
As Sweetspot, a medical cannabis dispensary, gets set to open in Olney around the end of February, safety and security manager Blake Costa and dispensary manager Peter Franklin are on a mission to ease community concerns.
The dispensary is located at 18070 Georgia Ave. in the space previously occupied by Armand’s Pizza.
Costa said because the concept of medical cannabis dispensaries is new to the area, he understands community apprehension.
His goal is to educate the community and patients on what he called the “most highly regulated industry in the nation.”
“From the moment a seed goes into the ground until it is purchased, every gram is accounted for by the state,” Costa said. “This allows them to maintain accountability and provides tracking if there is a problem.”
To address concerns, they plan community outreach to help address the stigma associated with the industry.
Costa and Franklin attended the Jan. 8 GOCA meeting to answer questions. They said they welcome the opportunity to address other community groups, including homeowner’s associations and businesses.
Costa brings years of military, medical and security experience to his position, including service in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he secured embassies abroad and worked with the Obama Administration to secure hotels and venues during international travel.
He also worked as a trauma technician at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and as security director for a cannabis cultivation facility in Rhode Island.
“With my medical and security background, I am the perfect person to lead security and operations,” he said.
Security for the facility begins at the front door, where visitors will be greeted by an unarmed security guard wearing a blazer, not tactical gear.
To enter the lobby, a person must present an identification card issued by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC). To obtain the card, a person meeting eligibility requirements must register with the state, pay a fee and visit a registered medical provider to obtain a certified recommendation.
Once the card is verified, the patient will fill out the required paperwork and remain in the lobby until a counselor is available. The counselors, who will undergo a comprehensive training program, will work with patients one-on-one to determine their individual needs.
“We are not here to sell, we are here to provide,” Costa said. “We will help identify their individual needs and offer the appropriate medicine.”
The product will be available in various forms, including flower, oils and patches. State law allows for a patient to purchase up to 120 grams per month.
A patient can see and smell the products, but is never allowed to touch them until he or she completes the purchase, signs paperwork and leaves the facility. Nothing may be consumed on the premises or surrounding area.
Costa said they leased the 890-square-foot building in June and stripped it down to the bare walls to bring it up to county code. There are numerous sophisticated interior and exterior security features, including multiple controlled access points, lighting and surveillance.
Inventory is stored in a vault and no cash is kept at the facility.
He said they have already worked with law enforcement and plan to continue to do so. He believes the dispensary’s presence has already decreased loitering in the area.
“There was a van parked in the corner of the parking lot,” Costa said. “People would hang out behind it and we would find drug paraphernalia out there. We worked with law enforcement to get the van moved and have already seen a reduction in loitering.”
Lt. David McBain, deputy director of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Special Investigations Division, reported at the Dec. 11 meeting of the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) that police have not seen an increase of crime at or near the dispensaries open in the county.
He said dispensary customers were “higher-end users of marijuana,” adding that products purchased at a dispensary would cost about three times what “street product” would cost.
McBain described the interiors of county dispensaries as looking like a “high-end jewelry store.”
“We have created a warm, welcoming environment,” Costa said of Sweetspot. “It’s not like a dark ‘head shop.’ It is a safe, warm, comfortable place where patients can get their medicine.”
There will be a sign outside the business.
“It is just to let the patients who come here know where to go,” Costa said. “We are not advertising to the community.”
As of Dec. 10, there were 14 dispensaries operating in Montgomery County, including Glenmont, Rockville, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Burtonsville. The state allows for no more than two in each legislative district.
According to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website, 79,000 individuals are registered, with 54,000 of them having completed the necessary steps for certification.
“Ten percent of that population lives in Montgomery County, so that large population of people needs access to their medicine,” Costa said.
Costa and Franklin said in the days leading up to the opening, about five to 10 people a day have stopped by to see if Sweetspot is open yet.
“Many of them have been seniors,” he said. “These aren’t college kids, these are people who really need it.”
Sweetspot will have a website, but it was not operational by press time. For more information, contact email@example.com.
To learn more about Maryland’s medical cannabis program or to register, go to www.mmcc.maryland.gov.
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