Tucked away at the end of a business strip in east Tulsa, the stock of medical marijuana flower at Healthy Buds Dispensary sells out almost as fast as owner Michael Monroe picks it up from a grower in Oklahoma City.
“I generally get about a 15-minute break every two hours,” Monroe said Wednesday morning. “Honestly, it’s the older customers coming in. I would say 80 percent of them are older than 50.”
At first glance, Healthy Buds might look skeletal for a dispensary operation. The business near 21st Street and Memorial Drive is mostly empty except for some furniture and a counter area Monroe uses to interact with patients.
Monroe verifies patients’ license numbers online with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority before using a gloved hand to remove the buds he has from a large bag and weigh the amount requested. From there, he places it either in a smaller vacuum-sealed bag or a green container that resembles a prescription bottle, then affixes a label that says “Medical Cannabis” to the front.
“I’m absolutely legitimate and legal in my purchase activities so I have no fear, no paranoia,” said one older customer who didn’t want to be identified. “I like the fact that it’s in a bottle. We’re not talking about people smoking blunts out on the front porch. It is what it should be. It’s discreet and quiet, so I like that.”
Monroe said he’s seen customers from places such as Inola, Miami, Muskogee and Wagoner since he began publicizing he would have buds for sale. He had to close for more than four hours early on Monday after running out, prompting repeated trips to Oklahoma City.
However, he said it hasn’t been an easy week: The few growers with product ready for distribution started hiking the cost per pound, putting him and others under increasing pressure to live up to patients’ expectations. The strains at Healthy Bud cost $20 per gram of cannabis and $50 per one-eighth ounce, with veterans receiving a small discount.
“At first (my grower) was really cool about it all, but it’s been price gouging ever since. When he raised the price (to $4,000) the last time, I barely had enough to pay for the pound I have now,” he said.
Michael Velasquez, a prospective patient at Healthy Buds, said he thinks the rates charged by growers make it a challenge to keep products affordable even if they’re selling only one or two strains.
“I understand that (the industry) is just starting off and stuff like that, but I feel like they’re charging a ridiculous price to the dispensary owners and making patients really spend more money,” said Velasquez, an Army veteran. “There’s no health care and no insurance that helps older gentlemen or people who may not be fortunate to buy this medicine.”
In part because of the high prices, most businesses in the state have stayed away from selling buds until at least December, the projected completion date for widespread harvests. Danna Malone, an owner of Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe at 55th Street and Mingo Road, said she turned down an offer to purchase a pound of marijuana from a grower because she wasn’t certain of its quality or legality.
She said the consensus among the bulk of the industry is to have flower on their shelves by January, which would also guarantee products were grown in Oklahoma. Monroe said his own harvest should be ready by then and that he expects to have more than a dozen strains.
In the meantime, Malone has clones — or copies made from cuttings of parent plants — and seeds available for purchase, which she said generated positive feedback from visitors. She also offers weekday specials, veteran discounts and is in the works on a compassionate care program to help veterans, the elderly and those with cancer obtain their medicine.
“We’re just erring on the side of caution,” Malone said. “We’ve got way too much invested in this. If we had medical marijuana (flower), we would be selling it. But we don’t want to sell anything that’s not tested.”
Several patients at Healthy Buds were repeat purchasers who said they liked the quality of the strain available and the customer service Monroe provides in person and on social media. The older people who entered the store often asked Monroe for tips on the best way to use it because they haven’t smoked in decades.
“The medicinal properties of the flower are good, and it does what it’s supposed to do,” said Stacy Rotramel of Tulsa, whose visit Wednesday was her second. “It’s helped me better than any pharmaceutical medications I’ve taken. People use marijuana as a medicine, and it doesn’t mean we’re breaking the law.”
State laws and regulations for State Question 788 require commercial operations to submit details of what is grown, processed, distributed or sold each month. Although it doesn’t explicitly mandate growers say what date they planted seedlings, Malone said there’s always a possibility state agencies could take action against businesses they believe aren’t in full compliance.
“We don’t want our licenses in jeopardy. We have to do seed-to-sale tracking and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and OMMA are going to know if we fudged,” she said.
The legislative working group evaluating medical marijuana approved a set of testing recommendations and sent them to the state Board of Health for consideration, as current emergency rules don’t provide guidelines. The board doesn’t have a scheduled meeting until December but it has no obligation to discuss the recommendations at that time.
Monroe, for his part, said he will be transparent with the results of laboratory testing on products he grows and said the products he’s already sold are safe.
“It just feels amazing that I can come and purchase legal marijuana,” Velasquez said inside the store. “There’s a lot of politics involved and a lot of stigma that came with marijuana, but it’s no difference, you know, with the prescriptions that are getting prescribed. The only difference is that it’s healthy.”