VIDEO -- Columbia Care, the nation's largest medical cannabis company, held a ribbon cutting ceremony today at its new Smyrna facility with town and state officials at 200 S. DuPont Boulevard in the Commodore Commons shopping center. The dispensary will open to patients Friday.

The first medical marijuana dispensary in Kent County will open to patients Friday in Smyrna.

Columbia Care, the nation’s largest medical cannabis company, held a ribbon cutting ceremony today at its new Smyrna facility with town and state officials at 200 S. DuPont Boulevard in the Commodore Commons shopping center. It's on northbound U.S. Route 13 near Monrovia Avenue, near Brickworks brewery and restaurant.

Smyrna Mayor John Embert congratulated the company and said the planning for the dispensary started about two years ago.

"This is the first business I've worked with since I've been mayor where I was there from beginning to the ribbon cutting, and it's been a smooth process all the way through," said Embert. "Columbia Care covered everything. They answered all of our questions and concerns about security. This isn't their first rodeo."

After company officials first proposed the dispensary, they met with the mayor, town manager and police chief and answered questions from the town council. Then the company received town approval and state approval.

"They stuck with what they told us they were going to do 100 percent," said Embert.

The mayor said Columbia Care will be bringing jobs to the community along with helping the tax base.

Columbia Care chief executive officer Nicholas Vita said the Smyrna location could employ up to 25 to 30 workers, some full-time and some part-time, depending on demand.

"It will take time to get to there," he said.

As for how much the positions pay, Vita said it depends on the job, but for retail sales the company pays above the market average. Other jobs include chemists, manufacturing specialists, cultivators, accountants, and compliance specialists who make sure the company is following state regulations.

"We encourage a career path," Vita said. "We hire, train and develop personnel and offer a national platform for advancement. Every single person who works for us we consider to be a skilled role because they're either interacting with patients or regulators, or they are directly involved in the production or manufacturing process."

Who benefits from medical marijuana?

Paul Hyland, program administrator for the state office of medical marijuana, said about 5,000 patients are already enrolled in Delaware's medical marijuana program.

"Most patients come to us with four major concerns," he said. Those are chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer and post traumatic stress disorder.

People with those conditions are about 85 percent of the patients in the program.

"It's very helpful with long-term pain relief and it doesn't have the addictive properties of opiates," Hyland said. "It also doesn't have the digestive effects opitates do."

Patients with multiple sclerosis report that marijuana has a soothing effect on their neurological system, gives them more endurance and reduces muscle spasms, Hyland said.

For cancer patients, marijuana can help with pain. For patients going through chemotherapy it lessens nausea and helps improve the patient's appetite, he said.

"Improving the appetite is important in helping the patient in getting nutrients while undergoing chemotherapy," Hyland said.

Patients with PTSD report that marijuana has a calming effect, he said.

Other conditions that medical marijuana is used for include ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), HIV/AIDS, seizures and autism with aggressive behavior.

There are also 20 pediatric patients in the state's medical marijuana program receiving treatment for a variety of conditions, mostly cancer, Hyland said.

About Columbia Care

Vita said the company has about 50 dispensaries that are either open or in the final stages of approval in states as close as Maryland. The state with the company's most dispensaries is New York.

“Opening our first dispensary in Delaware marks our expansion into yet another highly-regulated medical cannabis program. We are proud to further expand access to our industry-leading pharmaceutical-quality cannabis-based medicines to patients in need of consistent and reliable products,” said Vita. “In addition to setting the standard in the industry by producing the highest-quality cannabis-based medicines, we are committed to providing a superior patient experience."

Vita said the company has conducted more than 750,000 successful patient interactions, during which dedicated professionals at dispensary locations across the United States spend one-on-one time with patients to understand their needs and provide them with transformational cannabis-based medicines.

"We look forward to continuing this legacy of exceptional patient care in Kent County and throughout the entire state of Delaware," he said.

The Smyrna dispensary is designed with patient access, comfort and safety in mind, Vita said.

Why was Smyrna chosen?

"We looked for a community that was welcoming, and our interactions with Smyrna officials went very well," Vita said. "We were also looking where we could serve the greatest population of patients."

Considering the existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Wilmington and Lewes, Smyrna's location makes sense, and it's between the two largest population centers in the area, Dover and Middletown.

Marijuana grown in Milford

Columbia Care products for the Smyrna dispensary are grown in the company’s controlled-environment  production facility in Milford that will employ 25 to 35 workers depending on demand, Vita said.

The manufacturing and refinement processes take place in highly-controlled labs with trained chemists who follow strict quality control guidelines to ensure product safety and consistency, he said.

All products undergo independent batch testing for a variety of measures to ensure the highest levels of purity.

All medical marijuana in Delaware is tested by High Tide Lab Company, based in Harrington.

Company president Dan Woodall has a master's degree in analytical chemistry from Drexel University and 17 years of experience as a professional chemist.

He said the marijuana is tested for micro-organisms such as bacteria, along with pesticides, any foreign matter that may have gotten into the batch, and the level of the active ingredients in the marijuana such as THC that determine its effectiveness.

The Columbia Care Smyrna dispensary will provide cured leaf products from numerous strains scientifically selected and carefully grown by the company's team of horticulture experts, Vita said.

Also available are Columbia Care’s core unique dose-metered pharmaceutical-quality offerings, which will be expanded upon over the coming months.

These products include tinctures, vaporization oils, and oral capsules.

The prices listed at the dispensary include:

$17 for a 1-gram flower,

$50 for a 3.5-gram flower,

$60 for two oral capsules,

$60 for the sublingual tincture (a liquid).

About the Delaware medical marijuana program

While the Smyrna dispensary is the first in Kent County, two other medical marijuana centers are already operating in Delaware by another company, First State Compassion Center, in Wilmington and Lewes.

To access state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Delaware, a Delaware-licensed physician with a medical relationship with the patient must certify that the patient has a qualifying condition.

The patient must complete and submit a patient application to the Division of Public Health medical marijuana program. If the application is approved, then the patient receives a medical marijuana card.

The patient has to show the card as well as a state-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, to be admitted into the dispensary, said Columbia Care vice president of security George Agganis.

The transactions are monitored in the state medical marijuana database which also has a photo of the patient.

The multiple checking of photo IDs would make it extremely difficult for someone to use another person's medical marijuana card to gain access to the dispensary, Agganis said.

Chuck Sands, director of security for Columbia Care's Mid-Atlantic region, said the company's security measures include airport-grade access controls at entrances that are monitored 24 hours a day.

As for preventing theft by employees, Sands said the company's inventory tracking system is unsurpassed.

For more information on the Delaware medical marijuana program, visit http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/hsp/medmarhome.html.

Smyrna dispensary hours

Patients with a valid medical marijuana card can schedule an appointment with Columbia Care from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

For information on appointments, see the Columbia Care website at http://www.col-carede.com/.