Park City cannabis pharmacy is set to open next month
Construction, not COVID, slowed project
Construction is nearly complete on the planned cannabis pharmacy in Park City, a spokesperson said, the basement suite “sheetrocked and taped” and ready for what he hopes will be an early February opening.
The pharmacy is set to open in the Emporium shopping center at 1351 Kearns Blvd., a low-slung strip of shops that also includes a dry cleaner. It will serve patients who have been prescribed cannabis by a certified medical professional and will not sell the drug for recreational use.
Deseret Wellness, the Pennsylvania- and New York-based LLC licensed to operate the pharmacy, originally eyed an opening date last fall, then pushed it to early this year, and construction delays have continued to set them back, the spokesperson said.
“This time of year is a little challenging in construction, just because of the holiday,” said Jeremy Sumerix, Deseret Wellness market president. He added that the pandemic wasn’t to blame for the slow start.
Utah’s fledgling medical cannabis industry has been beset by delays since voters first established it via referendum in 2018. Afterward, legislators wrangled over regulations and protocols that would govern every aspect of how the pharmacies were to operate.
State regulators envisioned that half of the state’s 14 locations would open as early as last March, with the other half opening in July. As of July, only three pharmacies had opened, and another four opened by Halloween. The measure approved by voters included 40 distribution points.
Locally, however, Sumerix said Park City officials have been easy to work with. The next hurdles will be inspections and securing a certificate of occupancy and business license, which he hopes Park City will grant in the coming weeks. The firm has already secured an administrative permit and a building permit to renovate the space.
Sumerix said some aspects of the plans aren’t final, even with an opening day coming shortly, with possible changes involving the entranceway and elevator.
The door to the stairs leading to the basement suite is tucked into a corner of the strip of shops and isn’t immediately obvious to passersby. Sumerix said he hoped to improve the entryway into something more “grandiose” to encourage foot traffic, including possibly a front facade on street level.
That might entail moving the location for the elevator, and Sumerix said that he anticipated the shop would be fully accessible as early as May for people who do not use stairs. In the meantime, the shop is offering telehealth visits and curbside delivery to patients.
Sumerix said the firm has hired its pharmacy manager, a state-mandated position known as the pharmacist in charge, who will begin hiring staff shortly.
And he said that the pharmacy had deals in place with cannabis growers to ensure there would be enough product on the shelves on opening day.
There remains a statewide shortage of quality cannabis “flowers,” the green buds most commonly identified as cannabis, Sumerix said. The state issued many fewer licenses to grow cannabis and to operate pharmacies than medical cannabis proponents advocated.
Sumerix said the shortage will not affect the Park City pharmacy.
The pharmacy will not require patients to pay for cannabis with cash, though there will be an ATM on-site. Cannabis remains illegal on the federal level and the national banking industry has shied away from allowing its credit cards to be used to purchase the drug.
Sumerix said the pharmacy is pursuing different strategies to allow patients to pay with debit cards.
One aspect of the program advocates touted was the potential it had to create revenue for state and local governments, but it is unclear how much the pharmacy will impact local budgets. There is no tax on cannabis, but there is a $3 transaction fee paid to the state.
The Utah Department of Health indicated before the pandemic that the transaction fees would generate about $840,000 for the state in 2021 and that the medical cannabis program would eventually yield about $2.2 million annually.
Summit County Finance Director Matt Leavitt said he did not budget any revenue from the cannabis shop this year because the program is new, the fee goes to the state and he thought it prudent to wait and see how the state would manage the funds.
A Park City budget official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sumerix did not estimate how much revenue the store might generate, saying that there are far fewer medical cannabis patients in the Wasatch Back compared to Utah County, which contains the firm’s other Utah location.
But he anticipated that might change as the Park City pharmacy opens and the number of qualified medical professionals in the area increases, adding to the number of patients locally that have access to cannabis.
As of October, there were four qualified medical providers in Summit County and two in Wasatch County, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. Only one provider in each county listed their name on a publicly accessible portal for patients to find prescribers.
There were about 215 medical cannabis cardholders in Wasatch County and Summit County combined, and Sumerix indicated that number might grow.
In another effort to increase the number of customers able to use the pharmacies, Sumerix said Utah’s medical cannabis industry would pursue legislation to allow patients with medical cannabis cards issued by other states to purchase cannabis in Utah. He didn’t anticipate the state Legislature would adopt such a measure this year, but said the industry would pursue it patiently.
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