| Fremont News-Messenger
GIBSONBURG – There’s a constantly expanding menu of medical marijuana delivery options that Standard Wellness Company produces and ships out to Ohio dispensaries.
The company started out making flowers, cartridges, gummies and patches at its 55,000 square-foot Gibsonburg cultivation and processing facility.
Some patients want their medical marijuana absorbed through their skin in water soluble nanocream.
Others prefer chocolate bars or medical marijuana cereal bars with marshmallow.
“I think we’ve explored every option that there is,” said Alec Lydrickson, the company’s compliance and systems manager.
To keep up with customer demand, Standard Wellness hired more people.
It has more than quadrupled its workforce since it began operations at the Gibsonburg site in 2018.
Then COVID-19 swept through the country in March 2020.
Katherine Lagow, Standard Wellness’ vice president of operations and new markets, acknowledged the pandemic initially produced a lot of nervous moments, particularly for a startup company in one of the state’s newest industries.
“When we were deemed an essential service, that was huge,” Lagow said Tuesday at the company’s Gibsonburg plant. “If we had to shut down like restaurants, it would have been devastating.”
Standard Wellness CEO Erik Vaughan told the News-Messenger in February 2019 the company had future plans to open more greenhouse space at the Gibsonburg plant and hire additional employees.
Today, Standard Wellness is poised to add a significant amount of new employees in the next six-to-eight months, Lagow said, as it looks to open another 3,400 square foot greenhouse on-site and two new flowering rooms.
Michelle Lahman, Standard Wellness’ human resources manager, said the company started with 12 employees at its Gibsonburg facility.
Now, there are 49, with pending hires, Lahman said.
Another greenhouse will give Standard Wellness four at the site, with each measuring 3,400 square feet.
Matt Close, executive director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, said some Ohio cultivators have grown out, in terms of using the space they have available, like Standard Wellness has in Gibsonburg, and some have not.
“Standard Wellness is a fascinating facility. I would encourage anyone to take a tour,” Close said.
Gibsonburg company gets through pandemic
August Kaan and Mike Picciuto worked on Standard Wellness’ new solventless products Tuesday in the facility’s distillation room.
Both wore blue hair nets, masks, surgical scrubs and latex gloves.
As Kaan explained the process of solventless extraction, Picciuto stood nearby on a step ladder and vigorously stirred a mixture of water, ice and plant materials in a bag with something resembling a canoe paddle.
Like a lot of businesses, Standard Wellness had to quickly pivot and put COVID-19 safety protocols in place when the pandemic started last year.
Lahman said it was easy for the company’s packaging employees to properly space out, given that they were working on six-foot-long tables.
At the pandemic’s outset last year, Brandon Lynaugh, the company’s director of external relations, said any employees that were deemed nonessential had not been coming into the Gibsonburg plant.
He said essential site employees were limited to the company’s cultivation team and security officers.
In addition to its Gibsonburg cultivation and processing facility, the company also operates dispensary affiliates in Sandusky and Springfield.
Terrasana operates a dispensary in Fremont.
Emilie Ramach, Terrasana’s marketing director, said in March 2020 the company’s Fremont site, as well as its other retail locations, had increased its cleaning and personal hygiene procedures with a focus on continuously disinfecting public areas such as counters, door handles, tabletops, iPads and ATMs.
The company provided extra cleaning and sanitizing supplies to every location, where workstations are wiped down every night.
At Standard Wellness’ facilities, the company did not have to shut down production and sales or reduce staffing.
Lahman said the company stressed to employees that they were making products designed for human consumption.
She said employees took social distancing and the need to frequently change gloves seriously.
“Everybody understood what it meant that we were still able to work,” she said.
Company’s impact on community
From the beginning, Vaughan had touted a state-of-the-art facility that would deliver good-paying jobs and open a new industry in Gibsonburg and Sandusky County.
Marc Glotzbecker, Gibsonburg’s village administrator, thinks the company has delivered on what Vaughan promised.
Glotzbecker said Sandusky County Commissioners approved a 75% tax abatement to Standard Wellness in 2018.
Everyone that works at Standard Wellness is paying local income taxes, Glotzbecker said.
He said the village’s housing market within its corporate limits is on an upswing, something Glotzbecker partly attributed to Standard Wellness and its workers.
“There are quite a few of their employees that have bought homes in the village,” Glotzbecker said.
Standard Wellness’ presence at Clearview Industrial Park has also led to more inquiries from businesses about the park.
Glotzbecker said when village officials have brought prospective tenants to the industrial park, it helps that they’re not “looking at an empty space.”
Beth Hannam, Sandusky County’s economic development director, said the county has submitted the park to leads as a possible building site.
She said there was about 30 acres still available for development at Clearview.
When Standard Wellness opened its facility, its leadership let the county know it intended to grow its operations at the Gibsonburg site, Hannam said.
“They just weren’t sure how quick it would take off,” Hannam said.
Standard Wellness, industry primed for future growth in Ohio
With its plans this fall, Lagow said Standard Wellness could see a hiring boost of up to 60% by the end of 2021 at its Gibsonburg facility.
There will be more new hires on the facility’s cultivation side, with Standard Wellness’ post-harvest team seeing the biggest increase in staff once the company adds flower space.
“They do our harvest, our trimmings, our shucking and our packaging. It’s one team,” Lagow said.
Jennifer Jarrell, the Ohio Department of Commerce’s deputy communications officer, said Friday the state currently has 2,680 active employee badges at medical marijuana facilities.
Jarrell said the employee badges do not necessarily equate to full-time employees because any individual working in the facility is required to be badged (this can include contractors) and owners of the facility (who can be investors and are not at the facility day-to-day).
Standard Wellness is also interested in acquiring more dispensary locations, as it did with its Springfield site last year, Lagow said.
She said the company had also discussed the possibility of applying for new dispensary licenses.
There are 52 dispensaries open statewide out of 57 licensed for operation.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported The Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which regulates dispensaries, plans to add more medical marijuana retail stores later this year.
Ohio initially capped dispensaries at 60 statewide, based on an estimated 4,600 to 51,000 new patients over two years.
The state surpassed that patient count during its first year.
Jarrell said Ohio’s total medical marijuana sales jumped from $56 million in 2019 to
$221.3 million in 2020.
Close said with the state’s medical marijuana patient population growing at an unexpected rate, the state had become more receptive to getting patients more access to dispensaries.
He said he thought there would be more dispensary license applicants in Northwest Ohio, although he couldn’t say exactly which cities might see additional future locations.
“I know there are rural areas that have more than one dispensary,” Close said.
Lagow said if and when the state releases more dispensary licenses, Standard Wellness would absolutely be applying for its statutory limit, which is five.
With Ohio having only 52 dispensaries, there are significant areas where patients drive too far in an effort to get access to their medicine, Lagow said.
“Even in Cleveland, you have to drive, let’s say, 20 or 30 minutes in certain areas to find a dispensary. And then you have to assume they have what you want,” Lagow said.
She said the company submitted quite a few dispensary license applications in the state’s first round.
Applicants look at several factors, including property that fits state and local guidelines and potential dispensary locations that would give patients better access, Lagow said.