Tucked miles away from Newton in Fitchburg sits Garden Remedies Inc., a massive building that looks like any run of the mill office to the untrained eye. Yet inside sit rows upon rows of cannabis plants and a state-of-the-art lab that are key to daily operations.
Garden Remedies is currently the only operating dispensary in Newton, but probably not many know much about the operations of a marijuana dispensary. Where exactly is all of the product coming from? Is it safe? What is Garden Remedies doing for the community in Newton?
Sourced directly from its growing facility in Fitchburg is the dried cannabis, oil for vape pens, and edibles. Garden Remedies practices vertical integration, meaning that the company can oversee the growing, producing, shipping, and selling. Vertical integration gives Garden Remedies complete control over its business.
This level of control means that CEO Dr. Karen Munkacy can ensure a sustainable and organic product. During Munkacy’s battle with cancer, she suffered excruciating pain but was unable to use marijuana to alleviate her pain. She beat cancer and made it her life’s mission to make safe medical marijuana available.
“I prayed a lot and promised God that if I survived and was cured that I would work to make [cannabis] legally available to people because it is a terrible choice to choose between suffering how I suffered and breaking the law,” said Munkacy. “Part of my research was visiting dispensaries in other states and I was a bit shocked at that time about how unprofessional a lot of them were.
“I’m a physician and to me, if you’re providing a medicine to people there are ways to do this properly and not do this properly, so I wanted to do it properly.”
Munkacy’s commitment extends to the ways Garden Remedies is adapting to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Jim Comber, the company’s director of marketing, said that starting March 17, Garden Remedies would shorten store hours, move to online pre-order pick-up for medical and adult-use, and pay for employee sick leave. Sick employees are being asked to stay home. Garden Remedies will keep its facility clean by having employees wash their hands, clean store surfaces, and wear gloves.
Garden Remedies says it follows proper cultivation practices and grows the plants in the most sustainable conditions possible.
The water used during growing is recycled through a water filtration system. Additionally, LED lights are used over the more wasteful High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights to grow the cannabis. Garden Remedies has plans to switch to outdoor greenhouse growing as it uses no electricity.
Proper cultivation methods include growing the plants in pristine conditions to avoid mold and bacteria. Growers refrain from using any pesticides, additives in their oil concentrates, or plant growth regulators. Pesticides, additives, and plant growth regulators can be extremely harmful to humans, so Gene Ray, the lab director at Fitchburg, stressed that consumers should know what their product contains. Ray oversees the creation of cannabis concentrates (oils) which are made into vape cartridges, edibles, lotions, tinctures, and other various cannabis products.
Recently, black market THC vape pen cartridges have come under public scrutiny following the deaths of some users. This prompted Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker to issue a four-month ban of all vape products. The FDA believes that the secret killer in these black market vape cartridges was additives put into the oil.
The ban greatly affected Garden Remedies, as the the company had to completely stop the production of all vape cartridges.
All cannabis concentrates are tested by an independent third-party lab. The testing ensures that the product has no additives, residual solvents, or any other components unsafe for human consumption. Additionally, a profile of the different components within the concentrates is then created from the tested sample. These components are the terpenes and cannabinoids that naturally occur in marijuana and differ from strain to strain.
Terpenes are the organic compounds found in plants that protect the plant and give scent and flavor. Cannabinoids are the unique compounds only found in the marijuana plant that have various effects.
Before the ban, the profile would just be information for Garden Remedies to have. After the ban, the profile information was placed on the label of every product similar to a food packaging label. “It is a health concern when you have no idea what is in your vapes,” Ray said.
“You don’t have 100 percent confidence what is in it [the vape cartridge] unless it's coming from a reputable dispensary like our own,” Ray said.
Munkacy and her colleagues at Garden Remedies wanted to ensure that when consumers purchase products from Garden Remedies they can be assured that not only is their product safe, ethically grown, and organic, consumers will know the exact properties of the cannabis they will be purchasing.
With the high demand for recreational sales in Newton, the dispensary is about to go under construction to create separate rooms for recreational and medical sales. After construction, Garden Remedies is aiming to hire approximately 21 new employees in Newton on top of the 18 employees currently employed.
The employees go through a rigorous two-week training program. One of Garden Remedies’ main missions is to inform the public about the benefits of marijuana, especially for its medicinal qualities. There already are private rooms where customers can ask questions and learn. According to Tiffany Ozigbo, Garden Remedies regional manager, if someone comes in and asks questions for an hour and does not purchase anything, the staff has still done something valuable for that person.
Garden Remedies wants to educate residents of Newton and the general public, as well as continue to give back to the communities it serves. In Newton, Garden Remedies donated to the Newton Food Pantry and the Myrtle Baptist Church. Another way Dr. Munkacy hopes to give back is through a new social justice program.
This program would work with Roxbury Community College to educate the public on the wrongdoings inflicted upon minorities during the war on drugs, and to help expunge the records of those wrongfully impacted.
“We are very upset about the injustice on how marijuana laws have been applied,” said Munkacy.
Iolanda Perna can be reached at email@example.com.