The first time Arkansas voters had the opportunity to legalize medical marijuana in 2012, Walter Koon voted against it. Today, he and his daughter Kattie (pronounced KAY-tee) Hansen are on the verge of opening the Native Green Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art medical marijuana dispensary near his hometown of East End. What changed? According to Hansen, “We started reading about what was happening in other states, learning about the benefits. Our perspectives radically changed. People have stereotypes when it comes to cannabis use, and don’t recognize the significant medicinal value it holds. The more we learned, the more we decided this is actually brilliant.”
Koon grew up in a toxic home with parents who abused alcohol; he and his daughter have also seen the lives of multiple friends and family destroyed by addiction to opioids. Discovering that cannabis can provide a healthier approach to pain management and a way out for those addicted to opioids made their new business venture a no-brainer.
Koon, a self-made businessman who has established numerous businesses in central Arkansas over the past 50 years, is the sole investor and will run the financial side of the business as CFO. Hansen, who produced KTHV’s “Positively Arkansas” show after graduating from Baylor in 2006 and went on to do their morning show, will serve as COO. She takes pride in the fact that she singlehandedly wrote the extensive application without outside consultation. “We are Arkansas through and through. No backdoor contracts from out-of-state.”
When they were one of four companies awarded a dispensary license in Zone 6, which includes Saline, Grant, and six other counties, Koon and Hansen determined to do everything first class. The first step was forming an ownership team that together would provide the collective expertise needed to excel. Joining them are nationally known horticulturalist Chris Olsen, owner of Plantopia Home and Garden Center in North Little Rock, and pharmacist Leslie Duncan from Fayetteville, who has been recognized for her excellence in developing and implementing superior customer care practices as a senior manager for Walmart pharmacies and vision centers over the last 27 years.
Their 10,000 square feet facility is being built from the ground up, using only top-of-the-line equipment. CO2 extractors, growing lights, third-party testing, biometric doors, security equipment – no expense will be spared in pursuit of the highest quality product possible. Dispensaries are limited to growing only 200 plants and harvesting only 50 a month, so they will supplement their inventory by buying from one of the five licensed cultivators in the state.
Additional investment is being made in the area of patient care. Hansen makes it clear that patient care is priority number one: “I wanted to build a facility that caters to all clients, no matter their level of experience with cannabis. Every patient will pass through security to our education center, where a pharmacist and trained dispensary agents equipped with informational videos and reading materials will guide them through the process. As advocates for the patients, we want to make sure their best interests are cared for.” Rather than seeing folks walking through their doors as “customers,” Native Green is committed to continuing with their clients through the process of getting better, making whatever adjustments are necessary to figure out what strain and dosage of cannabis is most beneficial. With hundreds of different strains of cannabis, each affecting the body differently, needing to make some alterations is likely. To that end, Hansen has developed wellness journals for patients to chronicle their progress and discuss any concerns with their physician and pharmacist.
Native Green Wellness Center broke ground and poured concrete in February. They hope to have the facility up and running by the end of May. The center will employ approximately 30 people, mostly dispensary agents who will need to be certified. “We need folks who are trained, skilled, and knowledgeable,” Hansen says, “because we’re only as good as our dispensary agents.”
This is obviously an exciting business opportunity for Koon and Hansen, but it’s also personal. They hope to see others spared the trauma they’ve witnessed firsthand. “Our dream is seeing countless patients getting off opioids and dealing effectively with pain.” Hansen is ambitious and hopeful but realizes obstacles must be overcome regarding the perception of those who use cannabis. “Education is a big part of our goal, not just with the general population, but pharmacists and doctors as well. I want to put a new face on this industry.”