Philly’s Beyond/Hello dispensary is on a mission to destigmatize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Running a legal cannabis business has its challenges, especially in Pennsylvania where medical marijuana was not legalized until 2016 — ten years after California and other states had already done the same. Yet, Blythe Huestis, the president of Philly-based cannabis company Beyond/Hello makes it look easy.
Huestis, who also serves as the vice president of retail operations for the global cannabis company Jushi Holdings has been involved in the industry for nearly a decade and is responsible for opening eight state-licensed marijuana dispensaries across the country. By the end of 2019, Beyond/Hello will have opened more dispensaries in a single year than any other cannabis company on the east coast. The company has five locations in Pennsylvania, including the first dispensary in Center City and another in Northern Liberties.
NextHealth PHL spoke to Heustis about how she initially got involved in the cannabis industry and what Pennsylvania can do to make cannabis more widely available to those who need it.
NextHealth PHL: What made you decide to get into the cannabis industry?
Huestis: I think we all have a personal story that motivates us. For me, my mom was my catalyst. Before I joined the industry, she passed away from cancer. During her last six months, I left my job and worked with my sister as her caregiver and saw her painful battle against cancer. I was an advocate of cannabis and encouraged her to try it as a way to combat her discomfort. But for her, it wasn’t an option because she felt that it was wrong. There was no convincing her otherwise.
I saw her opposition as an opportunity for me in this industry because, from that experience, I knew my mom was not the only one who felt this way. This was nine years ago. I saw that I could create a space where even my mom would feel comfortable shopping for cannabis products, a space where anybody could come in and understand that what they’re doing isn’t wrong. They’re taking their health care into their own hands and making a personal decision, which is incredibly powerful.
What are some of the challenges of running a cannabis company?
There are two main challenges. First, there is the hurdle of regulatory compliance. Arguably, the compliance and regulation in this industry are more challenging than in any other industry in the state. It’s a new sector, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. We have to work through the challenges with the Department of Health.
The other piece is stigma. We have to fight for our place in the medical community, and from a staffing perspective, we always have medical professionals on-site. Anytime a patient walks into our doors, they have the opportunity to meet with a licensed pharmacist. That’s been another opportunity for us to utilize our medical professionals and well-trained staff to help beat the negative stigma.
Who are your customers and what types of conditions are seeking to treat with cannabis?
Pennsylvania has 23 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. We see patients with all 23 conditions. I couldn’t say to you that the bulk of our patients are being seen for any one disease or issue. We really do see patients of all ages and with all sorts of medical conditions. It’s powerful to see Pennsylvania add anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions, and I think we’re going to start seeing an influx of patients who have anxiety.
If you were to stand in one of our facilities today, you would probably be shocked by who our patients are and what they’re being seen for. So many people think it’s a bunch of young people who are coming in to get high under the guise of one of these conditions, but it is so not that way.
Things are very different than they were ten years ago, but the cannabis industry still has ways to go, especially in terms of stigma. What will it take to move the industry forward?
I’d like to see the industry continue to work together. I am a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all ships. As an industry we shouldn’t work against each other. Let’s be the best representation of what this industry can be and together we can really make a statement that this industry is for the good and is really helping people.
Beyond/Hello is going to continue to have a patient-centric focus. At the end of the day, it is people, product and pricing. We can’t always control product and pricing, but we can control the way we engage with people. I’d like to see the industry continue to focus on the patients, provide excellent customer service and allow the experience of the patient to resonate with them.
I also think we need to see continued growth, no pun intended, of products. This will allow us to continue to have a great breadth of products to offer to our patients. All bodies are different, so what works for one person isn’t going to work for the next.