As a medical cannabis patient and caregiver, Aaron “Roy” Scalia understands the power cannabis has to benefit those who are suffering.
After sustaining a brain injury in a motorcycle accident in 2002, Scalia turned to medical cannabis during his recovery, and in 2015, he founded AAA Pharmaceutical Alternatives as a licensed medical caregiver to serve patients in central Maine.
“Through the use of CBD and THC, I’ve been able to really cope with everything that I’ve been faced with and because of that, I’m able to help others,” Scalia tells Cannabis Business Times. “People can relate because they may have had an accident or they’ve been through trauma in their lives, [and] we can share our stories. … I can talk about things that helped me and a lot of times, it helps them.”
When Maine voters legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016, Scalia saw it as an opportunity to expand his reach beyond the state’s registered patient base.
“We’ve been servicing people in the medical marijuana care industry for the past five years, and it’s been great,” he says. “With the new market getting ready to explode in Maine, we want to be able to offer our products to everybody, not just the people who have medical marijuana cards.”
When the Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) issued its first round of conditional adult-use cannabis licenses last month, Scalia realized this goal—AAA Pharmaceutical Alternatives secured vertically integrated licenses for cultivation, product manufacturing and retail.
“We got three of the 31 [licenses] that were given out,” Scalia says. “We do everything in house. We don’t outsource for anything, which I think is great because we have total control over everything that’s going out and that we put our name on.”
Scalia attributes much of his company’s success to lessons he’s learned from Dr. Dustin Sulak, a cannabis doctor on the East Coast who helped AAA Pharmaceutical Alternatives formulate many of its products and develop some of its standard operating procedures in the beginning.
AAA Pharmaceutical Solutions’ products have always undergone third-party testing before hitting store shelves, which Scalia says prepared the business for the rigorous testing that will be rolled out with Maine’s adult-use cannabis market.
The company has also stayed ahead of the curve with product labeling, Scalia adds.
“Anything that goes out of the store has to have an ingredients label and it has to have THC levels [on the label] because consumers, they want to know what they’re putting in their bodies,” he says. “Luckily for us, we were located next to Dr. Dustin Sulak for the first two years that we were operational, and he played an instrumental role in us doing all of that.”
With conditional adult-use licenses in hand, Scalia is completing a 5,000-square-foot cultivation facility on the same property as his store to ensure an adequate supply for the broader adult-use market. Construction is also underway for a larger product manufacturing facility, and Scalia plans to sell flower and finished product to other retailers in Maine once the adult-use market gets up and running.
“We’ll be not only able to help the people who come in our store, … but we’ll also be able to help other stores [that] maybe were awarded a retail store license but not a grow license,” he says. “They’ll be able to buy their flower and products, if they need any, from us because we’ll be able to wholesale, as well. That’s pretty exciting for us.”
AAA Pharmaceutical Alternative’s five-year head start in Maine’s medical market has equipped the team with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to recommending products to customers, Scalia adds.
“With everything that we do now and the testing that goes into it, we’re able to pinpoint what will work for … your body or your situation,” he says. “We have a really good idea with every product what the customer is going to experience because of trial runs and other people using it. We’re all patients here, too, and we’re able to see the medicine work on ourselves and we’re able to talk with others.”
Despite Maine’s long history of legal access to medical cannabis (limited possession of medical marijuana has been legal since 1999, and Maine voters approved the state’s regulated medical cannabis program in 2009), Scalia says that some have hesitated to enroll in the program for fear of losing their jobs or other issues, and he is looking forward to expanded access for these individuals.
“I’m so excited to become part of the adult-use marijuana market because it’s going to open it up for all those people who couldn’t get a card because of their situation,” he says. “There are a lot of different reasons why many people who need marijuana haven’t gone out and gotten their medical marijuana card because of the stigma that’s around it, … [but] we encourage everyone to come and try it because there are a lot of different things that we have here that can help you. … I don’t want it to be any different than if you need something to self-medicate, you go to Rite-Aid and get it. I want you to come to our store.”
The OMP planned to launch adult-use sales in June, but has since announced plans to delay the market due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In a memo issued March 24, the OMP said a June launch could conflict with social distancing guidelines.
Although no specific timeline has been announced, the OMP said it “is proceeding at full speed to fulfill the will of Maine voters and establish and adult-use program. If and when it becomes apparent that a spring launch of this industry no longer appears viable, we will communicate that fact to you as quickly as possible.”
In the meantime, Scalia and his AAA Pharmaceutical Alternatives team are continuing preparations to ensure they are ready to serve the broader market and meet any new sales trends that might emerge.
“I think that the flower is always going to trump everything,” Scalia says. “I think it always has and it probably always will, but I think the concentrates are running a close second.”
Scalia is also anticipating a surge in CBD sales. “I think that as people learn more about CBD and the benefits of it, … it becomes more of an option for everyone because of its effects, and it’s easy to take.”
Although the COVID-19 crisis has cast some uncertainty over what’s to come, Scalia is still predicting a strong start to Maine’s adult-use market, especially given society’s shifting perspective on cannabis amid the pandemic.
“I’m really foreseeing an awesome year,” he says. “I think [cannabis] is going to be one thing that helps us rebound as a society. Marijuana has always been known as this evil Schedule I drug, but now it’s saving lives and it’s considered essential in the eyes of the government. Who would have thought this day would come? We’re considered an essential business while everything is closed down around us. … It’s great that everyone is coming around in a time of need."