David Nugent, owner-operator of the Herban Wellness medical marijuana dispensary, moved to Denver last year because the area has "hailstorms.”
Indeed hailstorms can be lucrative when you’re in the roofing business, as he was.
Nugent, and his fiancé Linda Lensing, worked for a national roofing company that sent them to the Denver area in the summer of 2009 to do repairs after a hailstorm damaged tens of thousands of roofs.
Once there, he learned about medical marijuana cards from a roommate.
Nugent says he has chronic back pain from years of construction work and occasional pain from two pins in his wrist from a childhood accident. Lensing suffers from migraine headaches. So they both obtained cards.
“Marijuana’s not a cure-all, but it provides some relief,” says Nugent ”The high is overestimated. The calm is much more important. I’ve been a medical marijuana patient for a long time, even before it was legal.”
Nugent says he has no criminal record “other than speeding,” and never broken the law “other than having marijuana around all the time.”
After visiting 15 dispensaries, Nugent and Lensing were convinced they could do it better.
“Going to dispensaries felt scary to us, very backdoor-ish,” he says. “You’d go down three alleys, up two flights of stairs. You’d be shown into what felt like a dorm room, with four or five types of marijuana. We felt very uncomfortable. It didn’t feel professional to me at all. You felt like you were going to get robbed when you left."
Lensing adds, “Our pants aren’t down to the ground and we don’t have baseball hats on sideways. We didn’t want to be associated with that, even as customers.”
Nugent and Lensing did like one dispensary they visited and they ended up paying the owner a $5,000 consulting fee to help them get started.
The search for office space, however, was long and difficult. Nugent finally rented an office on the fourth floor of an older office building near the busy intersection of Interstate 25 and Colorado Boulevard.
“I’d been looking for something to do,” Nugent said. “People told me to find something I loved. Roofing was a good, easy job but I didn’t love it. This job I love.”
At Herban Wellness, patients or visitors are buzzed into a spacious receptionist room, with couches, coffee and sweets. Down a hall, the dispensary room features some 70 strains of marijuana and an array of edibles that include marijuana peanut brittle, nine flavors of Mile High Ice Cream laced with the drug and several types of “medicinal” frozen pizza.
Lensing and Nugent employ two receptionists and two so-called budtenders, "who work with a patient to see what strain works,” says Nugent.
They partner with a local marijuana grower for the pot to sell to his patients, which now number more than 500. By law, he can keep two ounces of pot per patient at the dispensary and can grow—or have grown for him—six plants per patient.
The two also rent the office next door known as The Green Ribbon Clinic, where a doctor keeps regular office hours, seeing as many as 60 patients a week, diagnosing their ailments and often issuing a temporary access card to use while the state processes their paperwork.
The typical cost is $245: $150 for the doctor visit, five dollars to notarize the temporary card and a $90 fee that goes to the state for processing a permanent license.
“This has been a big learning process for me,” Nugent said, who estimated he and Lensing have invested nearly $50,000 of their own money into Herban Wellness.
The one-time roofer sees a bright future for medical marijuana.
“Once the floodgates opened up last year, they really opened up,” Nugent said. “Patients are driving this industry strongly. We’re excited. We see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. It won’t make us rich, but it should support us.”