UPPER MERION >> Michael Badey, the 24-year-old CEO of the Keystone Shops medical marijuana dispensaries, said he has great empathy for patients because he has suffered since childhood from a blood disorder and has been “in and out of hospitals.”
Badey, of Radnor, unveiled Keystone Shops’ newest marijuana dispensary at 367 Henderson Road in King of Prussia on May 2. The company’s first store opened in Devon on Feb. 14, and a third is now planned for South Philadelphia on Packer Avenue near the sports stadiums.
Walk into the 4,000-square-foot King of Prussia dispensary, and you’re greeted by a security guard, as well as a receptionist. A Zen fountain bubbles, and soothing green and gray décor create a calm mood. Due to state rules, security is tight, and only four patients are allowed on the sales floor at one time, which is behind a locked door from the lobby.
Last month, the state board of health announced that dry leaf marijuana would now be permitted to be sold in Pennsylvania and added some more conditions to the 17 diseases previously permitted for marijuana treatment. These include addiction recovery therapy, cancer remission, terminal illness, severe or intractable pain and spastic disorders like Tourette’s syndrome. Other illnesses already on the list include MS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and glaucoma. Dry leaf product or “flower” for use in vaporizers will likely be available sometime this summer, state officials said.
“Hopefully, sometime this summer, flower will be on the shelves,” Badey said. “The state has done a good job keeping their deadlines so far.”
Flower “is the cheapest to process for THC,” the main psychoactive cannabinoid of marijuana, said Badey. “A lot less goes into the manufacture of flower. That will definitely translate into lower prices for patients.”
Flower also offers an “entourage effect,” he said. “When you combine all of the different cannabinoids and terpenes all into one, they all are supplemental to each other, so they increase their effectiveness when combined, so it’s almost like one plus one equals three.”
Keystone Shops offers a full array of medical marijuana products, including various liquids, tinctures, pills, oils and ointments, although lately some products containing CBD (a therapeutic non-intoxicating marijuana extract) have been in short supply, Badey said, because CBD takes more plant material to refine into a treatment than products that are higher in THC.
“People are discovering us,” said Badey. “We’ve been trying to get out the word that King of Prussia is open. … The program is really ramping up. I believe there are seven active dispensaries in the southeast region.”
Keystone Shops has 2,500 patients, and more than 40,000 people have registered as marijuana patients statewide, with about 10,000 obtaining a medical marijuana card, he said.
Patients must register with the state, obtain a physician’s certification, receive a medical marijuana identification card and finally visit a dispensary to buy their treatments. Health insurers do not, as yet, cover medical marijuana, Badey said. Doctors who prescribe medical marijuana must take a short training class and also register with the state.
Anecdotally, patients have told him that they have been able to reduce their opioid dependence and reduce joint pain and insomnia because of taking medical marijuana, he said.
“The people that we’ve seeing, some for the second and third time, the response from truly sick people, these are individuals that have gone the standard route of treatment with opioids, and we’re hearing tremendous success stories,” said Dr. Louis van de Beek, chief medical officer for Keystone shops.
The medical marijuana has allowed pain patients to cut down or stop use of opioids, he said.
“The No. 1 diagnosis [of our patients] is the treatment of pain,” said van de Beek. “People seem to do quite well substituting medical marijuana for the treatment of pain.”
With it, they are “not overly sedated or constipated,” he said.
While people think about marijuana as a way to get a “euphoric sensation, these folks want pain relief,” he said. “They don’t want to feel disabled; they don’t want to feel stoned; they don’t want problems with coordination. They are able to control the dose with a profile of entourage effects that are acceptable to them. By using particular formulations and in particular ways, they are able to get that pain relief they require and still have a good day.”
Also, they now have five growers selling products to them, so the variety of products has increased and the price has dropped, he said.
And waiting time for patients has decreased so 80 percent are seen in 20 minutes or less.
Keystone Shops had planned a third location in Upper Darby but changed the site to South Philadelphia because of what they perceived as a large, unmet need in the city, Badey said.
“Philadelphia was massively underserved,” he said.
The spot they chose, a former bank, is “accessible to millions of Pennsylvanians,” Badey said. They hope to open it by the end of the summer, he said.
Badey, who studied finance, information systems and business administration at Fordham University, said running a business has “always been a dream of mine.” But he admitted, it “never crossed my mind that I’d be presented with this opportunity.”
His father, a lawyer and Radnor Democratic Chair George Badey, is one of the investors in the business.
Getting it up and running has caused “a lot of sleepless nights,” Badey said. The medical marijuana industry is highly regulated and they work closely with the state Department of Health. Finding locations for their three dispensaries was challenging, as many municipalities did not have laws to allow it and some landlords were not interested since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. Badey said he looked at more than 1,000 sites.
“There are a lot of misconceptions,” he said. “We really want to dispel all those stigmas.”
All their dispensary technicians have taken a two-hour state training course and also were trained internally, he said.
The state is expected to grant a second round of dispensary and grower licenses, with applications due May 17. State officials “have been fantastic to work with,” said Badey.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, who co-sponsored the medical marijuana law, said, “I first introduced medical marijuana legislation eight years ago. It’s been truly heartening to see Pennsylvanians finally get the medicine they need. That progress is due in no small part to people like Jason [Mitchell, the general manager] and his team, and I congratulate them on their opening.”