What It’s Really Like to Run a Medical Marijuana Dispensary

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Genna Zimmel—one of the directors at a Vancouver medical cannabis dispensary—gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Zimmel shows off the wares at MedPotNow dispensary in Vancouver

Zimmel shows off the wares at MedPotNow dispensary in Vancouver

Age: 27. Ironically, I’ll be 28 on 4/20.

Length of time in current gig: A little over two years.

Education: A bachelor of arts from the University of Alberta.

What do you do? In Vancouver, it’s acceptable to provide access to medical cannabis from a retail location if someone has a prescription from a general practitioner. We are the retailers. We purchase the product in varying forms—from the flower to the liquid extract (tinctures) to topical creams—and we house them so people can come to purchase them.

So in a way, it’s the same as any other store except that you need a prescription to buy anything? Exactly, but there are more checks and balances; not just anyone can come off the street and purchase.

How did you get into this industry? I believed in holistic health, but I had never really explored cannabis that much until I moved to Vancouver. We’ve all been introduced to marijuana as teenagers, but there’s a difference between using it recreationally and using it responsibly as a medicine. I learned a lot more about its health properties, and that led me to pursue a career in the industry.

Do you have a personal connection to the medical use of marijuana? Ever since I was young, my family called me a night hawk because I had trouble sleeping. My partner suggested I try cannabis and explained that I could vapourize it, so I didn’t have to smoke it. I was leery, but I got a prescription and tried it. I kid you not, [after the] first time I used it, I hadn’t slept like that in years.


What is your clientele like? Our clients range in age from 19 to 70. Because you need a prescription, they are either avid [medicinal] cannabis users, or people who have been sick for a while and are trying cannabis for the first time because they are seeking an alternative remedy.

What types of illnesses can medical cannabis help? Anything from insomnia to eating disorders to chronic pain or nausea from chemotherapy.

Do you recommend different products based on the person’s medical condition? Yes. People come in with varying ailments and backgrounds with cannabis, and we are able to provide them with different options. For example, a lot people are curious about a cannabis compound called Cannabidiol (CBD) because it doesn’t have hallucinogenic properties; it just affects your body. It gives you, for lack of a better term, a “body high.” So for those experiencing extreme pain or are going through cancer treatment, we’d recommend items that have a greater amount of CBD.

What is the most popular form of medical marijuana? For the skilled cannabis users, the actual flower is always the most popular. We try to carry a nice range—like 12 to 15 different strains—of sativa, hybrid, indica and if we can get our hands on it, a CBD strain. The older demographic typically goes for things like tinctures and liquefied items that can be put in your tea or food, taken in pill form or blended into topical treatments. These products look like any other medication. It’s not as if you’re going home and rolling a joint.

What’s the vibe like at your dispensary? It’s not just some sort of “pot shop.” It’s bright, clean and comfortable and we provide as much education as we can.

What challenges do you face running this type of business? The difficulty is that everything is new and everything is changing. Every city and province is doing things slightly different. Everyone’s still figuring out what’s the right way, how to regulate it, how to get everyone on board. That’s work, but at the same time, that’s really exciting because we’re on the cusp of something revolutionary.

Do you deal with any stigma? Because medical cannabis is such a newsy thing right now, I experience more intrigue than stigma. And, in Vancouver, there’s a dispensary on almost every block, so the stigma has already gone away. As we start talking about responsible use of medical cannabis in the rest of Canada, it’ll diminish there, too.

How have you seen this field change since you first started? It’s certainly turning into a gender-balanced industry within the last two years. When I first started working in the business, I was one of two women in a management role within our organization, and the industry was mostly male-dominated. Now I am one of three women in management roles and the industry is a lot more equal.

Why do you think more women are getting into the industry now? The comfort level. The industry is serving a recognized need and warrants regulation and government approval. I think women are a bit more prudent in our decisions, so now that the industry is more legit more women feel they can take a chance.

Big chain pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart are also considering entering the medical marijuana market. What would that mean for your business? For now, I’m not too worried about it. We’re re-branding to become “Aura Health Studio and Dispensary,” providing both medical cannabis products and other services like yoga, massage therapy and naturopathy, so we would be very different than a pharmacy where you just purchase cannabis over the counter and leave.

What qualities does someone need to work in this industry? You need to have an interest in holistic and alternative lifestyles, be intrigued by things that are a bit different and want to step a bit outside of the box.

What do you do to unwind at the end of the day? I generally go for a run with my silver lab Jacob. When I go to bed, if I’m having any difficulties falling asleep, I have a vapourizer.

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