The Healing Power of Cannabis with a Pharmacist-Turned-Dispensary-Owner Monica Werkheiser (Canna Remedies)

Episode Description

As a pharmacist-turned-dispensary-owner Monica Werkheiser has a unique perspective as she navigates the ever changing cannabis industry. From talking to patients about specific needs and learning more about the plant, to understanding the legalities and nuances of the business. She shares her experiences, successes, and struggles of starting and running a dispensary in New Jersey.

We also talk about how to use cannabis as a treatment for different illnesses and how to effectively dose cannabis for patients for a variety of health concerns. We also discuss the importance of providing access and re-entry points for those who are new to cannabis or coming back after a long hiatus.

Monica Werkheiser is a former pharmacy manager who also managed a line of medical cannabis dispensaries in Pennsylvania before being awarded a recreational license in New Jersey, where she is readying here shop, Canna Remedies, for open in Fall 2023.

Find out more about Canna Remedies at:

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Episode Transcript

Tom Mulhern: Welcome back to the Kaya Cast podcast. I'm your host, Tom Mulhern, and today I have a conversation that I'm excited to share from my time at MJBizCon. When I was there, I sat down with Monica Werkheiser and Monica is the director of Operations at Canna Remedies out of Ewing, New Jersey. Now this is a brand new dispensary that's opening in New Jersey and we had a kind of spur of the moment conversation and it was really good.

Monica has such a unique perspective because she was a pharmacist who turned into a cannabis advocate, and she has really pushed the industry forward by using cannabis as a medicine and over and over and over again, you talk to people and when it gets to the heart of the issue, cannabis, the plant.

It really has the power to transform people's lives. And Monica is working with people with various health conditions to use cannabis as a way to kind of help treat those, those problems without having to use these really heavy drugs.

And we all know that the cannabinoid system in our human body matches up with the cannabinoid system in the marijuana plant, and it's so amazing to see someone using science and using her experience as a pharmacist to help people with their health conditions using this instead of other types of medicine.

So I hope you enjoy this conversation with Monica and she shares also some insights into what it takes to open a dispensary in New Jersey and the steep learning curve that everyone from licensing to finding a location has to go through when they're opening up a brand new dispensary.

Tom Mulhern: Well, welcome to the Kaya Cast podcast. I've got Monica here and she is a dispensary owner out of New Jersey, and we're gonna hear her story. Tell me a bit about your background. So you you can go into like your background of you. You're, I'll give it away. You're a, you were a pharmacist?

Monica Werkheiser: Yes, I'm a pharmacist by trade. And got into the cannabis industry, I guess about five years ago. Pennsylvania actually requires pharmacists on premise in their dispensaries. So I found this company. They were mom and pop. I kind of stocked him out a little bit.

I just wanted to know, I wanted to, you know, dabble, dip my toes in and started just consulting there for patients and found out I loved it. Just gonna be my passion from then on. So stayed on at the company, ran all three of their medical dispensaries in Pennsylvania, and then sadly we got bought out in May of 2021.

Which, you know, bittersweet. But they actually asked me then to come on as a partner instead of just working for them, which is amazing. So I'm working with this family now. We are building an adult use dispensary in Ewing, New Jersey. And we're gonna see where that journey takes us.

Tom Mulhern: So what is the name of the dispensary you're building in Ewing?

Monica Werkheiser: So our dispensary is Canna Remedies. Again, tying the roots back to the medical side that we love and came from. You always have to honor that, but I'm really looking forward to just wellness and what cannabis can bring a lot of people.

Tom Mulhern: Yeah. Well, and that's the thing, that's the overarching theme that I keep hearing people talk about is, you know, it's not just this, like, it's been vilified.

Obviously there's the war on drugs and the, you know, the effects of that on marginalized communities. Yeah. People over and over again. When you start working in this industry it's more than a drug. It's a life changing plant that has so many remedies to it.

Monica Werkheiser: Well, it's interesting to me just to be in, starting in the industry, you almost get scared to say you're in it cuz people start to judge and what are you doing?

Um, But as I talk more to people and say, yeah, I'm working in a dispensary, the amount of people who just have questions. And that's just it. They wanna understand and it just takes time to be, this is what I do, this is, you know, we're in a dispensary. It's just like going to a pharmacy or going to Target.

So it's interesting to see that. And I laughed too. I've had a few patients of mine who say, you know, they're at the soccer games and they're trying to be like, sneaking down a gummy or a capsule. And then their buddy next to em's like, oh yeah do you want mine instead?

And it just, it starts to breed this whole community that we didn't realize was there before. But it's great being able to talk about it for once and not have to feel so shamed about what you're doing.

Tom Mulhern: Well, it's like a closet community that's like, now we're coming out and we're like expressing that.

Like this is a life changing plant. Yeah. And it has so much good, I mean, obviously. To like over indulgence can be a bad thing. You know, you eat too much peanut butter, you're gonna feel sick. And too much cannabis can make you feel sick, but the right amount can really make a difference in your life.

So out, out of your background of being a pharmacist how do you view kind of that, the shift from like, here's drugs, here's like big pharma to now you're prescribing people. A natural cure that actually works.

Monica Werkheiser: It's probably my my favorite point of cannabis is that there is no set dose, which I know sounds weird from the perspective of medicine.

I'm come from the, you've got five milligrams and it's 10 milligrams and that is it. There's no skewing it. So I actually love the fluctuations that cannabis allows because most people's disease states they're not, you know, a straight line. There's so many ups and downs, good days, bad days.

I mean, our pain. Today I'm a five. Today I'm a 10. And with cannabis, it allows that fluctuation where with your Percocet, you get that one Percocet. It doesn't matter if you're five or a 10. So I love that we can kind of get away from that and start looking at how do we treat in the moment rather than just trying to as a whole be like, well this has to work for everybody.

Which is very hard for doctors to comprehend. And where it gets tricky is a lot of times we actually got in with a few nursing homes. And actually a few childcare facilities, which I know is a very touchy subject. Yeah. But these were autism patients and they were in a facility and the facility wanted to be able to allow them to medicate.

So we had to go over dosing protocols and what a titration schedule looked like. And to still be fully funded and everything. You have to have training and then documentation. So there's a lot that goes into it, but when. Have a pharmacist behind it, at least laying it out. Saying, okay, we're gonna start with two drops, three drops, four drops, and we're gonna hold here for a little while.

It does help. And that's actually how we did structured in Pennsylvania, was written medical, direct like directions. And not to be like, this is what you have to take, but this is how you start and this is how you progress when you find that hold point. Stay there. Yeah. And it's, I love it. I really do.

Tom Mulhern: Well, there's experimentation with it. When you're prescribed medicine it you're experimenting with it just as much. Yeah. Like if your doctor gives you blood pressure medication, he's like, well, we'll take this and we'll see how it goes. And he doesn't know like what it's gonna do to your system. You could be taking medication for anxiety and it could make you gain weight or make you have all these negative side effects where if we were able to get past the point of.

Oh, I'm, you're prescribing cannabis? Yeah. For anxiety. Yes. Because that's what the plant does. It works with our core system and changes like how our brain works in a positive way.

Monica Werkheiser: It's so amazing the different effects. And coming from, again, the world of pharmacy where people have pills for pills.

I have a pill for this side effect from this pill, and it just gets a little out of control. So to be able to work with a plant that I can say, Hey, yeah, this is, you got pain and anxiety. Let's just stick with this one strain and see how that goes first. Yeah. And not have to be like, well, this is for your pain, this is for your anxiety, this is for your sleep.

Because it's never just one thing in a patient's life. Even with blood pressure, it's generally not just one thing, you know? A lot of times a sedentary lifestyle and what's gonna, I'm sedentary because I'm depressed, and there's these whole links that it's nice to know a plant can look at a lot of those different overlapping illnesses.

Tom Mulhern: Well, and the science and technology now is getting so advanced in cannabis. Like I, I spoke earlier with someone from Wana brands like the Wana gummies. Yeah. They have indica strains that can help you fall asleep, but now they're creating something that helps you stay asleep.

They've added melatonin to some which everybody takes. Yeah. And then taken it out of others, so they're able to like, not just like all take some indica of fall asleep. It's like, You wanna fall asleep or do you wanna stay asleep? Or like what sort of an experience where you can't even tailor that with prescription drugs that way?

Monica Werkheiser: No, and most people, the side effects from their sleep pills. I mean, the amount of people who've come through our dispensary because they were a sleepwalker on Ambien, or, and I mean, I had a person who actually cooked a meal. Oh wow. You burn their house down, you know, you're, you don't know what you're doing.

Yes, it worked, but it could also turn very sideways very quickly. So it is nice to have something that's more controlled. And what I've learned is even technology, like you're saying, one of the my favorite products was there was a pod device that you could actually set the dosing to.

It was a PAX POD device. So we had a few Parkinson's patients who wanted to vape to help kind of with their symptoms in the moment, but they can't work a battery. And to hope that they're only inhaling as much as they want, you can actually set the dose amount there. So they could say, I want a small puff, a medium, and get a consistent dose without having to worry about did I accidentally my jerk emotions or whatever be the times didn't allow me to inhale properly.

So that's been amazing for a lot of our. And I know I'm gonna get a lot of pushback on this, but we actually ended up using it for an autistic patient once because their fits would come on so rapidly. And the mom had originally been using one of the like, volcano devices to dose the child. But like it gets very hard to get them to again, inhale that right amount in that perfect time.

So when she was able to have a device that was giving a set, small amount, very controlled, she knew what she was giving them, it was a game changer for her.

Tom Mulhern: Well, I watched a Nova, like Nova from pbs. There's a documentary about cannabis with kids. Yeah. With autism. And you know, there that's like as big of a stigma as it gets.

Oh my goodness. Yeah. Should I, you know, give my child like this thing that can really help. But there's still that like, no, it's the devil's weed. Why would you give that to a kid? But it can help. So I'm curious with those studies, did you find a big difference with kids using cannabis?

Yeah. It sounds weird even coming outta my mouth.

Monica Werkheiser: It does it's, and you still, I mean, there's still like bite the tongue moments Yeah. When you say it and then it shouldn't be that way. Probably some of our bigger success stories we did have a nonverbal child actually be able to start using like one and two word phrases.

So that was really, I mean, again, for us to say one or two word phrases, you're like, what does that mean for those parents? That was everything. We had another child who, it was very complicated. He wouldn't come out of the basement, wouldn't put clothing on. It was just ver and non-verbal. And the day that we got him to the right dose was actually able to get dressed that day, walk out from the basement, didn't leave the house, but left the room of most comfort. And it was like that was that first progress step. And that's what we see a lot is what's that first step? Yeah. And then, okay, now we know what the baseline is, let's keep moving from there. Some of the other ones we had a set of twins actually, which I didn't realize this until working in cannabis, and that's my fault as a medical professional for not knowing this ahead of time.

They were autistic twins with totally different symptoms. One was non-verbal, would not recognize it, like they're twin, like would not speak to her, would not anything. And the other one, she was verbal. And just more so the social skills, you know, more of like an Asperger's type. And it, to me it was just fascinating that you have two twins, you know, set of twins, autistic, and they're on opposite ends of the spectrum.

But what was interesting was finally when we got him into the right dose, he started acknowledging his twin. Yeah. Started engaging with his sister. And for the parents that was like, you know, that it was a huge step for them. One of our other ones autistic patients on the more social skills, she actually ended up getting a job, which was like, that was her goal.

Yeah. And it's fun to find out what the goals are. Cause it's not usually what people are thinking. Sometimes it's the parents who end up being the ones who we target. And not to say target, but. See the toll it takes on that family. That stigma really does. It's killing them. And there's a whole like P T S D that comes from parenting a child, you know, a child with autism.

So a lot of times after we've taken care of the kid, it starts to becoming about taking care of the parents so that they can be better caretakers to themselves and to their child.

Tom Mulhern: What is kind of the policy that, like is there a policy change that needs to happen for more openness towards kids to be able to find this medicinal use for cannabis or,

Monica Werkheiser: I think there needs to be more understanding first. As far as policy change. The biggest thing that I see these parents come up against is a school system.

Because it's a drug-free school zone, and if your kid needs to medicate partway through the day, like you can send your kid in with Adderall. Oh yeah. You can send 'em in with Xanax. It doesn't like the schools are fine with that, right? Oh yeah. Take the pills. But you have an autistic child that needs to dose midday, that's a no-no.

Yeah. So these parents, there's some who had to quit their job so that they could go pick up their kid at lunchtime, take 'em out of school to be able to dose them to then put them back in school. And that's the only way that they could get it done. And that's a shame. I mean, you shouldn't have to quit your job.

Why do you have to choose between working and your child being healthy? there's, I think, Just a lot of misconception and misnomer there where again, you let Adderall through the door, you let Xanax through the door, but you won't let this autistic child take a tincture in the middle of the day.

Tom Mulhern: When you look at like how far we've come, but how far we still have to go. There's still so far, like there's still 19 states that don't allow any use like in the United States, and there's people being locked up for a crime while other people a state over are making millions of dollars on it and like, we still have so, so far to go, you know,

Monica Werkheiser: We really do. And I think the hardest part that I see is, you know, it's not just, yeah that person who's locked up, like, we need to take care of that, but we also need to take care of their families. There's a whole ripple effect that goes from that one person being locked up to everything that they touch, just being damaged because of a plant.

We gotta do better. Totally.

Tom Mulhern: Now from a business side, cuz you went from being, you know, like a staff member to being a partner. Yeah. Like how has that shift happened in your brain? Like, does that make you feel like, oh man, I've got like a lot of like responsibility and this is kind of scary.

I know if I went and became a partner, that would change a lot of things. So how has that been for you on a business side?

Monica Werkheiser: It's odd. And this is gonna sound weird cause it's very opposite. It's oddly empowering and humbling all at the same time. Yeah. To actually be able to have my say in how I want things to be.

And don't get me wrong, this the group I'm with has always taken the word of their staff Valued it. Yeah. What needs to happen. But it's nice to actually be making the change, making what I wanna see, you know, this is how I wanna see it, this is how it should be done. We should be educating. So that's great.

Where it's humbling is recognizing the weaknesses. I am not, I didn't go to pharmacy school to learn real estate No. And or business law. Yeah. And there's a lot of little facets that I think opening up a dispensary people don't realize and that you need to have a strong team around you, because if you don't, it's just, it's too overwhelming.

There's no way I could learn security

Tom Mulhern: and accounting and like you said, like all this stuff and. And that's actually, that's the point of this whole podcast is we try and interview a lot of different people. Cuz I work for Kaya Push, which is like a people management system. So for dispensaries we do your hr, we do all of that stuff.

But that's one little tiny component of running your dispensary. And for a lot of people it's like, yeah, we'll figure that out once we get the doors open.

Do you have some good, like partnerships with different companies or Yeah.

How have you sorted that out? Because I know New Jersey is kind of still opening and a lot of people are, it's just down the road, you know?

Monica Werkheiser: We have some great partnerships, some partnerships from even what we carried over from Pennsylvania. I mean, our HR team. Source there, I still keep in touch with because I agree with you.

I think one of the biggest things that's missed is HR in cannabis. And we were even guilty of that in Pennsylvania of being like but we have to get past this inspection first year. We have to when you push it to the side. But no, we do have some great partnerships with our security firms.

Actually, we were lucky enough that our one security member who became our head of security. He ended up starting his own security firm now. Wow. Which is amazing to see. That's the one thing I love about cannabis is like everybody gets to start finding their niche. Yeah. If nobody's stopping anybody from doing better for themselves. and Hopefully other companies are working that way. I mean, that's how we kind of believed it. But he was a connection to, he was an ex prison guard and there's all these prison guards. Due to injury, can't work in the prisons anymore, but what are they gonna do? So he started building a network to get them set up, which was amazing.

He himself was a disabled veteran, so it was great to see him just now thriving in that.

We still have a connections to growers from Pennsylvania, which is nice, both MSOs, but also some smaller growers that started in Pennsylvania like we did and are trying now.

To define what the next step is. Yeah, because unfortunately, pretty much all of Pennsylvania's MSO now yeah. Even the mom and pop growers have gone, but hopefully we'll get to work with them again. Cuz it was great. Yeah, it was great having those nice relationships with smaller companies.

Tom Mulhern: And what's kind of the climate right now in New Jersey as far as other businesses and, you know, your face kind of shows it all.

It's, yeah,

Monica Werkheiser: it's hard to hide that. No, it's, you know, it's hopeful, which is still good, but there is a lot of. There's a lot of stop and go. We have in the state of New Jersey right now, we have over 900 licenses out. Okay. That's across the board from cultivator to manufactured dispensaries.

However, when the majority of the state still hasn't opted in, you have limited, I think we're only at 27% of the state has opted in for counties. You've 900 licenses. You don't have 900 spots. No. These counties. So it's a lot of fighting for real estate, which is just not happening for people because even these towns who opted in, they said, this is the one block that you can put cannabis on.

There's one building for sale on that one block. How were you supposed to put anything more there? So it's been a very interesting fight to get, I don't wanna say fight. It is a work in progress. Yeah. Work in progress is definitely a better word cuz there are municipalities who are now realizing, you're right we zoned it because people were afraid.

I don't want it in my backyard, not near my kids. So they were trying to zone it away, but not realizing they didn't leave any room for actual real estate in that. So a lot of counties are rethinking their zoning policies and that, but that takes time. You know, it's not just one board meeting. They have a very supportive business association in New Jersey and they keep saying, And they're not wrong in their statement. We provide access. We don't guarantee success.

So there is a point where we do have to take ownership on our own, you know, and I tell people, you can't find real estate. Online, get off your butt, go walk down the street, door to door and say, Hey, that looks like a closed building. It's in the right zone. Who owns it? How long have they been out of there?

Like who do I have to call? Sometimes it is just, you gotta get in the dirt, you gotta get in the trenches. Otherwise, you know you're just gonna be waiting for somebody else to take your spot. You can't wait for it. You gotta go for it.

Tom Mulhern: Once you get that spot, you have to have something that kind of differentiates.

Your business from the other ones around you. So looking at Canna Remedies, what sort of is your unique brand statement or what makes unique? Obviously they've got you that, that's unique, like having a pharmacist that knows medicine and knows all of dosage and all of that. But what makes you guys unique and stand out?

Monica Werkheiser: I mean there's a million cannabis brands that are wellness and health and That's great. There should be, yeah, I mean we, what we should be promoting, I think what our niche is and what we really like to focus on is, Re-entry point. And what I mean by that is those, or reintroductions probably a better word, what we do well is those people who said, I mean, I tried it once in college, but I don't know what to do.

And I'm like, it's fine. Come in. You don't have to know what to do. Yeah. We will help you. And we were big proponents of this in Pennsylvania too. I had demos of everything. Pre -covid obviously I would allow people to try. It was flavor. You know, in a vape pen, but they would get to practice the motion.

I had a 95 year old woman who, she tried pills. She tried all, and she's like, it's not, I was like, please try a vape pen for me. Just try. She practiced on that and I, her eyes lit up. The moment she saw the vapor come out of her mouth. She did it right and she was so proud of herself, and that for me was the.

Amazing moment. Just having that connection with that person to see you did it and now you're gonna go home and you're gonna be fine. Like we you, you can do this. It's absolutely okay. And I think that's a lot of what we offer is just being able to be, it's okay, let's sit down, let's go through it. Let's go through what your fears are.

It's okay. It's not a big deal. We all were scared at some point. We all have to start somewhere. That's right. When we came outta the womb being like, I'm an amazing cannabis smoker. We learned. So that's really what we work on is that reintroduction point for people and making it less threatening.

Tom Mulhern: If you can create that environment where it is a welcoming and, and there's so many different ways to consume now, you know, like I, I prefer oil. Like I, in Canada, we actually have a spray. I love it. I'm a big

Monica Werkheiser: fan of the sprays,

Tom Mulhern: I'm not gonna lie,

And I always do it like right before bed. Like I use like an indica strain cuz it helps me to stay asleep. But I don't, I'm not gonna go outside. It's Canada so it's freezing out. I'm not gonna go outside and, you know, have the flowers. So I love that you guys are offering reentry. That's an interesting term.

I haven't heard that of like, you know, when I was in high school Sure. I smoked and then watched James in the giant peach with my friend Matt Capizzi and that was a terrible experience. And I've never tried it again to like, now I use it every day to help me in a beneficial way.

Monica Werkheiser: I think that's the key point, is just making people realize that it can be part of the every day.

It doesn't have to be, but it can be. Yeah. And it doesn't, it does not have to be scary. That is our key focus is It doesn't have to be. Yeah. You know.

Tom Mulhern: Looking at what you guys have built there, what is kind of like a tip or like a nugget that you could pass on to other dispensaries or business owners that are looking to enter the cannabis space?

Monica Werkheiser: I always tell people expect the unexpected. It comes down to research and planning and there's no such thing as too much research and planning when it comes to cannabis. I mean, you've gotta know everything from your town to your community to knowing who your investors are. Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, you've gotta appease them too.

But at the end of the day, who your customer base is, who your competition is, who your growers. You've gotta know all of them. There is no such thing as too much research. Know it in and out, everything about them, cuz you've gotta sell their product. You've gotta set yourself apart. You've gotta ingrain yourself in that community so that you have a loyal base.

Research reaches reacher, and then plan, I am the queen of Plan ABCDEFG. Like let's go through the alphabet because in cannabis what can go wrong will go wrong. It is Murphy Percent, Murphy's Law to the T. So yes, be prepared for everything because. What you think you're setting out for is never what you're gonna end up with.

Tom Mulhern: You hear all the horror stories of like, oh, well, we just didn't know this, and . So you have to prepare, you have to, like you said, every letter of the alphabet plan, A, B, C, D.

Oh that's, but that is encouraging to know that like on the other side of all of that, if you plan, you prepare, you have a brand that can stand out. It can be a really rewarding career.

Monica Werkheiser: It absolutely can. I mean, I would not trade this for the world,

And I think a lot of people who get into the cannabis industry find that it, that, that passion it's, you either love it or you hate it. And a lot of people who say in this industry it's just, it's so much ingrained in such a passion that's who they are.

Tom Mulhern: Yeah. So how can people find out more about you?

You know, if they want to connect and. Look I, you know, maybe it's a pharmacist that wants to enter the field and needs some, needs, some tips, like how can people reach out to you and find out more about Canna Remedies?

Monica Werkheiser: Absolutely. So our website is We are on social media, Instagram Twitter, Canna Remedies, nj. So just look for us. We're out there. Yeah. And we love the questions. That's what we, what's what we live off of.

Tom Mulhern: That's so good. Well, thanks for taking the time to chat and share, like, it's such an interesting perspective that you have coming as a pharmacist now into cannabis.

And I think it's, you know, I've talked to so many people this week that have said like, we need everybody in this field. We need architects, we need lawyers. We need accountants. We need, you know, every single type of trade that

Monica Werkheiser: you could imagine.

We need a cleaning staff. At the end of the day. You need people, just drivers Exactly.

Deliver products. It's all there. So,

Tom Mulhern: And if you don't think you can do it, you can. Yeah. There's so many opportunities. I made a career shift into cannabis and I would never look back, so. Awesome. Well, Monica, we will have all of your information on the show notes and when this. Cast comes out like people will be flooding your inbox with questions about, I'm ready for it.

I'm ready to change. Gimme the hope. So thank you for being on the podcast. Happy, and we really appreciate

Monica Werkheiser: it. No, this was wonderful. Thank you so much.

Tom Mulhern: Once again, I want to thank Monica for taking the time to chat with me.

You know, we ran across each other's paths at MjBizCon, and I was so thrilled when I started interviewing her and finding out her story, her unique perspective, and really. You know her, where she's at in New Jersey. It's a difficult place to be opening right now because, you know, like she shared, there's so many barriers, uh, for new dispensaries that are opening.

And so we, we applaud Monica and everyone over at Canna Remedies NJ for what they're doing. How they are blazing a path forward in this new market. And so, again, Monica, thank you for sharing your story, sharing your science, sharing your, uh, experience, going from being a pharmacist to now a cannabis advocate and medical professional in that field.

I wanna thank everyone who has been listening to the podcast, subscribing, commenting on our social media. It's so awesome to meet this great community of people that are passionate about cannabis business, and we look forward to more conversations and more ways to share stories about people who are launching, growing and scaling their cannabis business.

Thanks for listening to the Kaya Cast podcast. We hope you enjoyed the show. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast in your favorite podcast app, or visit our website to learn more about our guests and to access the full archive of episodes from the show. Join us next time as we continue to explore the world of cannabis.

And help you grow, launch, and scale your business.

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