Corporate turned khaki, the story of one medical marijuana dispensary owner

Jars of marijuana sit out for a patient to choose from. Along with marijuana, the dispensary offers a variety of other products including edibles, hash, pre-rolled joints and highly poplular "Chai High" teas.
Jars of marijuana sit out for a patient to choose from. Along with marijuana, the dispensary offers a variety of other products including edibles, hash, pre-rolled joints and highly poplular “Chai High” teas.

The man depicted on his driver’s license has short hair and sports a suit and tie. The long-haired man sitting in his office sports a Sublime t-shirt and khaki shorts.

Ken Correia, once a corporate man, is now the owner of Solace Meds, a medical marijuana dispensary on the south end of Fort Collins. He also owns another dispensary in Denver.

“I have become very passionate about the business,” Correia said, as he pet the store’s guard dog, Remy, a foot-long yorkshire terrier.

Before becoming the owner of a dispensary, Correia and his wife ran an insurance agency. When dispensaries started opening in 2008, his insurance agency provided them coverage plans.

During this time, Correia began using medical marijuana and started growing cannabis for about 10 patients. With the stress that came with running the insurance company, Correia ditched his suit for khakis and opened his own dispensary.

Correia was taking ibuprofen and other prescription pills multiple times a day to dull the pain of a ruptured disk. Now, he doesn’t take any pills, but uses edibles and smokes cannabis.

“We know for sure now that it is a true medicine, and it works for a lot of people,” Correia said.

“It seemed to be that I was having as many patients showing up … to get their meds as I was having insurance clients,” Correia said.

After opening Nov. 17, 2009, Solace Meds is a dispensary where patients can purchase herb, edibles and medicinal tea. The store also houses a yoga studio, private massage room and a grow room where the cannabis for patients is cultivated.

Solace Meds sees a variety of medical issues with patients experiencing everything from intestinal problems to seizures to multiple sclerosis.

“I have so many people who have seizures and come in here and buy products from us, and they don’t have seizures like they were having,” Correia said.

Correia said his employees are knowledgeable about the effects and correct dosing of their products and strive to find what works best for their patients. Finding products that work and seeing how much it helps people is something that keeps Correia in the industry.

“That’s one of the greatest feelings when a big guy starts getting tears in his eyes because he’s like ‘dude I have not found anything that will work for me, this is working’,” Correia said.

Correia says this gratitude is common when patients try his Chia High tea and Canna Cappuccinos.

“(Chia High tea) is one of the strongest and best edibles on the market,” Correia said.

These medicated drinks are distributed by his company, Keens Greens Edibles, to hundreds of stores across the state, according to Correia. The Head Chef of Solace Meds is Correia’s step son, Jory Billings, who makes all of the tea and cappuccinos.

“We get along at work,” Billings said. “At home life is great, too.”

Like several other employees of Solace Meds, Billings is not a medical marijuana patient, according to Correia. None of Correia’s four children — ages 14, 15, 20 and 22 — are users. He talks to them regularly about not using drugs and always locks up his medication, but is honest with them about what he does for a living.

“I would not want my products out, my kids taking it out to their friends,” Correia said. “That would be a nightmare.”

Correia said his family is hesitant at times to be completely open about what he does for a living.

“It becomes the center of the conversation for the rest of the evening, and sometimes I just don’t want to do that,” Correia said.

He has asked that his kids be discrete at school for fear that someone may think their house is filled with drugs and rob them. Correia said that he does not keep cash or marijuana at his home, apart from his personal portion.

“He’s a really good boss. He’s so particular about the source and that everything is compliant (with laws and marijuana regulations),” said Stashia Johnson, Manager of Solace Meds. “He is just a good person all the way around as far as I’m concerned. He’s done so much for this industry.”

Steve Ackerman, owner of Organic Alternatives, a dispensary located near Old Town, also sees Correia as professional.

“Ken and I are businessmen, and we are like minded,” Ackerman said. “We understand that in order for us to operate we have to have a certain standing in the community.”

One way Correia maintains a good relationship with the Fort Collins community is by giving money to programs that curtail underage use of marijuana, especially in schools.

“We want to be involved in the community,” Correia said.

He has asked to work with the resource officers at schools to help them understand what the new products are and what’s going on in the industry. Correia also refuses to sell products that are not clearly labeled or might confuse children.

Apart from the myth that their products are intentionally targeted toward children, Correia said that dispensaries are also not a way for people who don’t need marijuana for a legitimate medical reason to get it.

“A lot of people think it’s a bogus way for people to acquire marijuana,” Correia said. “They don’t see all the people who come in here that truly do need the medical marijuana.”

Correia sees some questionable young people coming into his store, but said it is not his job to judge patients.

“It’s not my job, it’s the doctor’s job,” Correia said.

While these beliefs are still out there, Correia and Ackerman see a change in public opinion happening.

“The public opinion pendulum is swinging in the direction of more acceptance,” Ackerman said.

This change in public opinion has been tested through elections.

Prior to 2011, dispensaries did not experience licensing or regulations. During this year, a petition drive was created by the dispensaries opposition — Correia and Ackerman were just two of the dispensary owners that banned together to fight this petition.

“We needed to come up with some norms, some self-imposed rules that we needed to follow in order to make it so that we were welcomed to the community,” Ackerman said.

In 2011, a non-election year, 37,000 votes were cast, and the dispensaries lost by 1,400 votes. All dispensaries in Fort Collins were forced to close by Feb. 14 of the following year.

Ackerman thought an election year, a year marked by a significant increase in voter turnout, would better survey public opinion. To get the issue of un-banning dispensaries on the ballot 4,200 signatures were required. They got more than 10,000.

“What more public input do you need than an election where over 100,000 people voted and 55% of them said yes (to lifting the ban on dispensaries),” Ackerman said.

After winning the vote in November, dispensary owners were not allowed to apply for their licenses until the end of January and were issued those licenses this July.

Solace Meds was shut down from Feb. 14, 2012 to July 9, 2013. During this downtime, Correia went to Denver to build up his Keens Greens Edibles business and bought Remedy Care Center, which remains his store in Denver.

Amendment 64 was also passed by voters last November. This does not mean you can go buy an ounce of cannabis just because you are 21. The city of Fort Collins still needs to establish a regulatory model in terms of recreational use of marijuana.

The state of Colorado and the city of Denver have already done so. Denver will start issuing recreational use licenses in January. Fort Collins is expected to roll out their rules in March.

Solace Meds and Organic Alternatives both plan to incorporate recreational cannabis into their stores if the city allows it.

“The city likes to drag their feet on issues like this, as they did with our licensing,” Correia said.

A lot of municipalities in Colorado have banned the recreational use of cannabis. This, Correia said, will just slow the process down.

“What we say to that is if they ban it we will run local campaigns, and we will overturn any mayor or council vote,” Correia said. “We’ll put it to the vote of the people.”

Collegian Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached news@collegian.com.