Medical cannabis (marijuana) dispensary Culta opened at 215 Key Hwy. in Federal Hill last week. The 2,500 sq. ft. space, which underwent a renovation, was the former home of BB&T.
Culta has a group of owners and investors and is led by President Mackie Barch. In addition to its dispensary in Federal Hill, Culta also has a 36,000 sq. ft. cultivation facility and processing lab in Cambridge. Barch said Culta has invested more than $11 million into the business.
Barch said Culta focused in on Maryland’s District 46, which includes South and Southeast Baltimore and which is allowed three dispensaries by Maryland law, as where they wanted to open. Culta joins medical cannabis dispensary Pure Life Wellness in Federal Hill, which opened earlier this year.
The Culta team loves the location on Key Hwy. because of its large windows that let in a lot of natural light and because it overlooks the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The space was designed by Curry Architects and features polished concrete floors and wood countertops.
Barch talked about the dark “porn store like” look of many dispensaries in California and Colorado and said they wanted to do the opposite. “We really wanted to get away from the secretive look of dispensaries, open up the space, let a lot of light in, and make it a first-class medical facility,” Barch told SouthBMore.com.
Culta is growing and developing more than 400 strains of cannabis in Cambridge and will likely be offering about 45 strains to the market in the near future. Culta’s products will be sold in Federal Hill as well as at other Maryland dispensaries. Culta is one of 15 growers in Maryland.
Culta strains are hand-trimmed and Barch described the curing process as a “long, methodical, slow process.”
Barch said that he has received no pushback for the location in Federal Hill, but the process of finding a location for the cultivation facility and processing lab was a challenge. “We went into a lot of small towns with affordable industrial spaces and got a lot of ‘heck no’ and ‘what about the children’ type stuff,” said Barch.
That’s when Maryland State Senator Adelaide (Addie) C. Eckhardt, who represented Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties, came to the rescue, according to Barch. He said that Senator Eckhardt is a conservative Republican who had reservations about cannabis, but she told Barch, “my people need jobs,” and made it happen. Barch said Senator Eckhardt got Culta plugged in with the Cambridge City Council as well.
Culta now has more than 40 employees in Cambridge at “above average wages,” according to Barch. He said that Culta has brought back several Maryland natives who went to other states to work in the cannabis industry.
Medical marijuana legislation was passed in Maryland in 2015, and Culta began its journey soon after. Barch keeps a close eye on legislation in this evolving industry. Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and Washington D.C., and recreational marijuana use is now legal in eight states and Washington D.C. Marijuana is not legal on a Federal level.
Barch said this gray area and the pushback on marijuana from President Donald J. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been helpful for small businesses in the cannabis industry. “If it was a homerun right now, you’d get the big alcohol and pharma companies pushing us out,” said Barch.
But, Barch also noted that because of the cannabis industry’s illegality, you cannot fund it on bank loans and that cannabis companies cannot write-off expenses on Federal taxes.
Barch said that Culta’s business plan is designed to be profitable whether or not recreational marijuana is ever approved in Maryland. “We will go where the market tells us to go and we will adopt our business model accordingly,” said Barch.
Barch noted that six of the seven Democrat candidates for Governor, excluding Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, have voiced support for recreational marijuana. He is unsure of the position of Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who is running for re-election, but said he’s been greatly supportive of medical marijuana. Barch said that medical marijuana is not taxed since it’s a medicine and therefore the State is not making any revenue. He thinks this might lead to a push for recreational use which would generate taxable State income.
Barch is a big believer in cannabis. “It’s a life saver for a lot of people and it has impacted my life,” he said.
Barch believes in plant-based wellness, which he noted was the predominant form of wellness before the rise of pharmaceuticals in the 1850s, and that cannabis can be effective in bringing down healthcare costs and as a tool to fight the opioid epidemic.
Qualifying medical conditions for medical cannabis in Maryland include cachexia, anorexia, wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain.
At Culta, Barch said they are selling “high-craft quality” cannabis that comes as flowers for smoking, extracts, and in vape pens. Culta will sell products from other growers as well. Prices will be $50 to $60 for an 1/8 ounce of flower, and $70 to $80 for a half a gram of oil.
The dispensary will have nine employees including armed security before it opens and after it closes. The cannabis will be stored inside a safe in a vault. Customers must have a Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) ID card to enter the dispensary.
Culta’s dispensary is open every day from 10am to 8pm.