Utah’s first medical cannabis couriers have started hand-delivering orders to the homes of patients, a promising development for people who face daunting drives to the nearest marijuana pharmacy.
The service is starting small at first. WholesomeCo, the company that is trailblazing cannabis home delivery in Utah, has hired 10 couriers that can cover Salt Lake, Utah, Tooele, Weber, Cache, Summit and Wasatch counties.
But Chris Jeffery, WholesomeCo’s chief executive officer, says his goal is to go statewide within six months so that patients who are medically fragile or who live long distances from the nearest pharmacy have a better option for getting their cannabis treatment.
“We deal with patients that are terminally ill, have [multiple sclerosis] or some condition that makes it hard for them to get out of bed,” said Jeffery, whose company grows medical marijuana and operates a cannabis pharmacy in West Bountiful. “Those patients need access to their home because they literally cannot leave their home.”
One Salt Lake County patient — who declined to give her full name because of the stigma around cannabis — said her health conditions put her at high risk for COVID-19, and she’s felt uncomfortable going to pharmacies during the pandemic. She hasn’t even been to the grocery store since April.
“So when I got the email alert that they were going to start doing delivery, I was the first one to sign up,” said the patient, who was expecting a WholesomeCo courier at her home Wednesday.
Another patient, Jordan Bartholomew, said he doesn’t have a car and gets around largely by bicycle, so it’s been challenging to find time to visit a cannabis pharmacy.
“Having delivery makes things a lot more comfortable for me,” said Bartholomew, who lives in Salt Lake City’s Ballpark neighborhood and uses cannabis to treat chronic back pain.
State lawmakers in 2019 adopted the legal framework for a home delivery system, and while WholesomeCo is the first to take advantage of it, Utah officials expect other cannabis companies will soon follow suit. Rich Oborn, director of the state health department’s Center for Medical Cannabis, said he hopes the couriers ease the challenges of rural residents who live hours from one of the state’s pharmacies.
Though the state has doled out 14 cannabis pharmacy licenses, only seven of them have opened to date, and the Provo location is the closest current option for patients in southern Utah.
Dragonfly Wellness, which operates a Salt Lake City pharmacy, is also getting ready to roll out its delivery service and several other cannabis retailers have plans to follow suit, Oborn said.
“I think the major question is, will they offer it to the entire state?” he said.
Oborn said the he hopes courier services will expand to reach all corners of Utah to “ensure that people in every county in the state have multiple options from which they can order medical cannabis.”
Desiree Hennessy, head of the Utah Patients Coalition, agreed with Jeffery that the home delivery option will be critical for patients who can’t easily get to a pharmacy.
“I have blind patients that I talk to and multiple different disabilities that make it so they can’t drive,” she said. “And so for those patients, this is huge, the fact that this is a way they can get their medication without relying on family or friends to go pick it up for them.”
However, she noted that many Utahns will have to wait a while longer for cannabis couriers to reach their community.
“The frustration is there’s just not more of it,” she said of the delivery option.
WholesomeCo began taking delivery orders on Wednesday and started transporting orders to patient doorsteps the next day. Since then, they’ve been handling about 20 orders each day but plan to scale up to about 200 orders each day in the next few weeks.
Jeffery said patients who live within WholesomeCo’s service range can place their orders online and choose an available delivery time for as soon as the following day or up to six days in advance. Under state law, the patient must be at home when the courier arrives to accept the cannabis order, and WholesomeCo even photographs the customer’s identification to make sure the package ended up in the right hands.
The company is charging a fee of $15 per delivery at present but will likely adjust this amount as they expand their coverage area and get a better sense of the costs, Jeffery said.
“We have to make sure that we’re not losing our tail on delivery,” he said. “But we’re going to try to keep that fee as low as possible. ... Hopefully, we can continue to decrease that price over time.”
In addition to serving patients who aren’t able to leave home or live in remote locations, home delivery is almost an expected convenience in an age when many medications are shipped straight to people’s doors, Jeffery said. He and a few colleagues at WholesomeCo had past experience with a mobile food ordering at a company called OrderUp and understood the complications of coordinating these services, he added.
“Delivery is obviously in my wheelhouse,” he said.
Because of that, the state has worked closely with WholesomeCo in launching the state’s first cannabis home delivery, he said.