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Inside the No. 1 medical marijuana dispensary in Illinois

Caroline Broderick, Features Editor

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Hugo Fernandez was a self-proclaimed conservative who never imagined touching any drug. This was before his wife, Traci Fernandez, became paralyzed from the chest down because of a neurological spinal disease, Transverse Myelitis, six years ago. When she heard that medical marijuana was making its way to the state, a medical marijuana dispensary, now titled the No. 1 dispensary in Illinois, was born.

 

The couple who were well versed in business management, previously being the founders of iGenMedia, a small business that has been sold to Andromeda Technologies. Hugo and Traci have held positions at companies such as IBM, Arthur Anderson and Compuware. The two then shifted their business ventures onto something that would assist Traci, and others suffering from spinal conditions, after doctors explained how the disease is incurable.

 

The two started a foundation called The United Paralysis Foundation, where they would run fundraisers to profit paralysis research. This wasn’t enough for the couple who consistently researched new ways to help patients. It wasn’t until Traci heard the news of medical marijuana coming to Illinois that she found the next way to find help and fundraise for the foundation. Unfortunately, due to Traci’s part ownership of the company, she is ineligible for a medical card.

 

The name of the company speaks for the mission and the hearts of its founders: Compassionate Care Center. Twenty-five percent of 3C’s sales go directly towards charity. Twenty percent for The United Paralysis Foundation, and the remaining five to various other charities not connected to the Fernandez family.

 

Opening a dispensary was not about marijuana, nor was it about the money. After Hugo and Traci researched the extreme benefits from cannabis and saw the affects it had, they knew they had to share the medicine with as many patients as they can, despite those who do not understand the drug.

 

Finding a location was the Fernandezs’ first obstacle, and the two realized how strict Illinois’ policy is on medical marijuana. They even found trouble in finding a landlord who would gladly support their business. The two spoke to nearly 50 landlords before two even agreed to consider them. Their opening of the dispensary has shown Hugo what biases and how uneducated people are about cannabis. This has only driven them more to push their mission and learn as much as they can.

 

“When people are put off by it I try to educate them,” said Hugo. “When brand new patients come in, a lot come in because they have no other place to go. They have their bias: ‘I have my card. I’m here to try this, but I can’t believe this is my last option. My whole life I’ve been clean. I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never been in trouble.’ They were in tears.”

 

These were the words spoken to Hugo as he met with an elderly couple three weeks ago who were first-time patients. The wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and their search for relief drove them towards alternative medicines.

 

“You have to educate them, and you have to help them get over that hurdle,” said Hugo. “And it ends up working pretty well. Once they try it, not only does it take care of their ailment, but also they feel good.”

 

In the state of Illinois, the list of approved medical conditions able to apply for a medical card includes: cancer, HIV, spinal cord injuries, lupus, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other serious conditions. In the past year, the first and only mental illness approved was PTSD. This contrasts greatly with states such as California where anxiety and even migraine headaches are approved conditions.

 

3C’s menu for their patients not only includes flowers, where their strain menu reaches over 100, but concentrates, edibles, topical gels and patches. Each menu item listed contains the name, the cultivator it has been received from, whether or not it is sativa, indica, or hybrid, the amount, and the price. An eighth of Fire OG Kush runs for $50. Sweet Baby Jane Wax runs for $50 by the gram, and Mary’s Sativa Patch runs for $17. Unfortunately, patients must pay out of pocket for their medicine, since insurance does not cover medical marijuana, but Hugo is proud to provide an almost overwhelming amount of medicine for patients. A menu like 3C’s is hard to find even in places like Colorado, where Hugo visits often to learn from other dispensaries.

 

“We’re very proud of what we are able to do for patients in Illinois,” said Hugo.

 

Each product is provided by what is known as a cultivator, those who grow the plant. In Illinois, there are over 20 cultivators. The closest, Cresco Labs, resides in Joliet. These cultivators are not your average gardeners. Instead, they grow the flower in large industrial buildings, complete with strong security and thousands of square feet.

 

“It’s not your traditional outside plant; it’s extremely scientific,” explained Hugo. “The testing that they do is all independently tested. When you buy your bottle of medicine, just like a bottle of Tylenol, it’s got all the ingredients and all the percentages on the bottle. It’s very impressive what they do. In Illinois, it’s the No. 1 place in the country as far as the quality of cannabis because it’s so strict what the cultivators have to go through.”

 

Not only is the state specific with cultivators, but an unruly amount of other specifics. When questioned on some restrictions, Hugo laughs, unable to choose only a handful of obstacles the company must constantly go through to please the state.

 

“One thing is the state really does not want for people in the business to have a relationship with a doctor, for example,” explained Hugo. “They don’t want doctors sending over patients to dispensaries or dispensaries sending people to doctors. There was a problem in other states where they’d have a doctor on site, and it would be more of a formality. They try to keep it completely separate. That’s just one example.”

 

The line between doctor and patient then leaves those suffering from their life-altering or most times life-threatening conditions, on their own. The doctor’s job is to confirm their patient has a condition on a form. From there, the patient must go through fingerprints, background checks, and a long process that can take up to two months for them to receive their medical card. In this time, many patients have died waiting. Only recently has the state realized the urgency, and have implemented a process that expedites a patient’s medical card if they are only predicted to live a couple of months.

 

Any progress is progress for medical marijuana in Illinois, but the fight continues around the country.

 

“I really hope that in the future, this becomes completely legal,” said Hugo. “It’s a Schedule 1 substance currently. It’s worse than cocaine and heroin. In the eyes of the law, what you’re doing is horrible. There’s no medical value whatsoever to this. And what we know for a fact, is that it’s not true.”

 

Due to all the limitations, research is limited as well, so although people are knowledgeable on medical marijuana, there could potentially be so much more to be discovered.

 

“These people are going through very difficult conditions,” said Hugo. “It’s not your typical ‘Oh my back hurts.’ It’s not your typical pain. This is chronic pain, this is debilitating. People can’t get out of bed when they have it, and when they take opiates, they can’t function. What we’re able to do with cannabis is give them their life back. And I love that. Might not be able to cure everybody, but the quality of life is greatly increased, and with a natural product. Without any negative side effects. I’ve never been this passionate about any business until now. It helps a lot of people.”

 

Hugo and Traci are not the only ones as passionate about helping their customers. 3C has 15 employees between their Naperville and Joliet locations. These employees range from managers to “budtenders.” Budtenders are the dispensary’s patient care specialists. These are the experts that listen to your issues and find the perfect product.

 

When it comes to employees, Hugo could not express more confidence in those he employs. Without hesitation, he easily admits many of them are more knowledgeable than he is, yet they retain the strongest sense of compassion for helping others as he exemplifies.

 

“It’s difficult dealing with the legislation and dealing with the things that seem unfair,” said Hugo. “I don’t understand it, but that’s OK. As long as we continue to do the work we are doing and help the people we are helping, I’ll put up with anything.”

 

The employees may be a large reason why 3C was titled the No. 1 dispensary in Illinois by Green Rush Daily. The title was a surprise for 3C, who had no idea they were up for the award. The Fernandez family only learned they won the title after numerous congratulatory calls. Naming the best dispensary was easy, because the process consisted of patient communication, where Green Rush simply called patients and asked them where they used their medical card and what they enjoyed about their dispensary. Serving 1,200 patients between the two locations, 3C was the top-named and raved about.

 

Currently, for 4/20, the “stoners holiday,” the dispensary is putting together their 4/20 sale that resulted in hundreds of patients lining up around the shop. This year, they have provided numbers for their patients so that they no longer have to wait in lines as they suffer from severe medical conditions, continuing to prove the dispensary mixes compassion with passion.

 

To learn more, visit 3Cdispensary.com

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1 Comment

One Response to “Inside the No. 1 medical marijuana dispensary in Illinois”

  1. Kay Claxton on May 1st, 2017 2:05 am

    I live in Texas, and while reading this article I realized that, once again, the government is in control of the people instead of “we the people”. I think that it’s a wonderful thing that you’re doing and it’s a great service for those in your surrounding area. I’m sure that they’re are plenty of haters out there who just love to comment on all the “crazy things” you’re doing in there, but I wanted to send a comment sticking up for you, the good guys. I don’t smoke pot, I’m 66, and even though it was my age group that “brought it out. Into the open”, it only made me hungry or paranoid. I’m just so thankful that you’re finding out how much it’s helping people. My brother has Parkinson’s, and my 14?year old grandson has autism. I feel hopeful for the future because of what you’re doing. May God bless you all.
    Kay Claxton. Grand Prairie, Texas

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College of DuPage's student newspaper | Est. 1967
Inside the No. 1 medical marijuana dispensary in Illinois