For having just expanded his dispensary business to sell cannabis product for adult use in December 2020, Casey Kornoelje brings a lot of plant-touching experience to the industry. He’s wielding that knowledge as he and his team work to vertically integrate Pharmhouse Wellness, the first adult-use dispensary in Grand Rapids, Mich., that is owned by a resident of the city.
Kornoelje opened Pharmhouse Wellness as a medical provisioning center in March 2020. But prior to that, he had spent 10 years running a 30-acre cut flower farm north of Grand Rapids, where he also grew cannabis in pole barns.
“In 2008, the state of Michigan rolled out the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program,” Kornoelje told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “I immediately enrolled as a caregiver and patient, so I was a patient myself, plus a caregiver of five. That allowed me to grow 72 plants total—72 all in—and I rocked that out from 2008 to this day.” (While the state has ended caregiver sourcing to dispensaries, Kornoelje notes that he is still legally growing for himself.)
Going further back in time, Kornoelje was charged with felony cannabis manufacturing in 2001 and a misdemeanor cannabis possession in 2004.
“As soon as I could discover how to grow the shit, I started growing it,” Kornoelje reflects. “I just wasn’t quite as good at concealing it as I was at growing it. That led to a big disruption in my life. The felony charge has always been on my record and stuck with me. It’s stifled many different opportunities for me throughout the years, both career-, professional-wise and trying to go into the military services.”
But things came around, as Kornoelje moved to the “cottage industry” of caregiver cultivation, then medical dispensing. His prior convictions, caregiver experience and residency in Grand Rapids scored Pharmhouse Wellness points through the state and city’s social equity programs and allowed him to receive zoning priority and fee reductions for its adult-use operations.
“We’re going to reinvest that money back into the local neighborhood,” Kornoelje said. “That could include projects like home ownership training, expungement clinics, business and home façade block grants, public safety and transit enhancements in front of the dispensary. Those are all just things that are on the peripheral, but that’s definitely not the end of it. [Those are] just some things that are hot on our agenda.”Photo courtesy of Pharmhouse WellnessPharmhouse Wellness operates out of a building on Wealthy Street that was constructed in 1890.COVID-Era Consumption
Pharmhouse Wellness opened as a medical-only dispensary in March 2020—in a standalone 750-square-foot structure that was originally constructed in 1890 as a home, later zoned for light industrial, and which architects and engineers helped Kornoelje facelift.
Within several days, Michigan government officials recognized the COVID-19 threat and prioritized social distancing over confined in-store customer experiences. Pharmhouse Wellness has only offered curbside and delivery for nearly the past 10 months.
A lack of historical data on Michigan cannabis sales made COVID’s impact difficult to examine, Kornoelje said, adding, “My take of it is that people are home more.