​2020 Review through the eyes of CEO Anthony Darby

It is always timely at this time of the year to take a few moments and reflect on the previous year, and begin to solidify the goals and intentions of the new year. I think the history books will isolate 2020 as a unique year that was severely impacted by the coronavirus. For many, this year has brought more devastation than any other time in their lives. It’s a Pandemic. Yet, through all of the changes, worries, and inconveniences our team has continued to persevere and succeed in serving our patients. Our team has progressed every year since its onset, but 2020 was special for The Peninsula Companies.

For me, 2020 brought a level of recognition of my efforts that I never dreamed possible. Early in the year, I was invited to speak at Salisbury University for the first time. This was important as the University's previous stance was that due to us being federally illegal, they were unable to have any ties to a cannabis or hemp company. (Now they have a Hemp program.)

Having honors bestowed upon me such as the 2020 Baltimore Business Journal Leader in Health Care, and further being asked to serve on a panel with 3 others as the keynote speakers for the event. Locally I received the Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur of the year award. Previous winners include great friends of mine like Jeremy Norton, and Lacey Coleman, both of whom I admire greatly.

The awards are not mine, although I am the namesake. The acknowledgment that I was accredited is nothing short of the summation of the efforts of the 25-person team that I have the honor of leading. I hope to outline some of our largest achievements broken down by month. Some of these may come as a surprise as so much was done last year.


January


January started with a bang and allowed me to harness my previous Political Science background with real-life Cannabis issues. This occurred when our local Sheriff proposed a county-wide bill (passed in a local municipality) that would have made any form of Cannabis consumption in public or a vehicle illegal, and an arrestable offense. I was thrilled when I reached out to Sheriff Lewis, and he and several members from local Police agencies and the States Attorneys' office to tour our facility and have a sit-down. The meeting was so successful that we were able to recraft the language in the bill to better reflect the patient attestation form, resulting in a solution that protected patient rights, and provided clear cut guidelines for our local law enforcement officers when conducting their duties.

We had a slew of Podcast guests including Tim from Ilovecompliance, Jacquie Cohen Roth with TeaPad, and Phil with High 5 Initiative.

We ended the month starting to tease out the new building, and letting folks know that something was coming. We aggressively mentioned we would be open in the summer, as this was pre covid. I created a video in which I outlined our intentions for the new building.


February



February’s podcasts started with some behind the scenes details of the new at that time future campus. It featured Joey Gilkerson, Principal of Gillis Gilkerson, who was intricate in getting the deal done. It was a testimony and recap on the multi-year hunt for the proverbial needle in the haystack, a new building for our dispensary and wellness center. Then a more important guest than Joey came on the podcast... Salisbury’s local hero, Mayor Jacob Day, joined Chuck and me; it was a really interesting conversation and provided the audience with an inside perspective of how progressive civic leaders can aid cannabis operators at a local level.

Pre-Covid February was filled with lots of events. The pop-ups were abundant in store, and in celebration of Black History Month, we sponsored a TeaPad even in which Darrell Hill was the keynote speaker. The event was amazing and Darrell gave a tremendous recount of his struggles and triumphs.

February is when the announcement came that Peninsula Holistics would be evolving into a part of Peninsula Wellness. Peninsula Wellness was created out of necessity to better reflect the overall reaching products and services of the campus and to continue our mission around education and a comprehensive care model.

(for those keeping track at home everything is pretty normal up to this point)

March


Oh March, in the early days of the month we ironically started public speaking engagements. First, we presented to the local AARP group during their monthly meeting that is held at the MAC center in Salisbury. Second, I had the opportunity to take along Brandon Bell and speak to a communications class on Salisbury University’s campus. This signified the very first time I had ever been invited on campus, so it was a very big deal personally.

Then, very quickly COVID hit. It was March 13th when we made our first public announcement that we were taking the virus very seriously. Additionally, we implemented new cleaning protocols and other social distancing measures but, watching the video, it's clear we were not prepared at that time for our new reality. Then the sprint was on.We knew we had to be proactive in our messaging and step up our communication. Our marketing team doubled down efforts, and it's in the middle of March when you will notice a shift in the style of content we were creating. I tasked the team to not be sales focused, and not try and promote products during this time. I thought the most important messaging that we needed to share was around wellness, and free and effective tools anyone could use to better themselves. I believe, as I write this, that we have maintained that mission.

It was also in March that the MMCC for the first time allowed “curbside pick-up”. This was a blessing but exposed our lack of a solid online ordering system. It was at this point we knew we needed to implement a new solution to better support our patients, and sprinted towards iheartjane.

March was light on the number of podcasts but not quality. Nurse Laura, of RN4Wellness, joined the canna convos to discuss her new business venture and journey towards becoming a clinical director.


April




I think it was by April that the magnitude of the situation was apparent. Cases were rising, shutdowns were happening. Then the silver lining came in the form of an announcement for our Governor and several others deeming medical cannabis an essential business. This announcement provided credibility to our industry, but also set the expectations for the level of service expected. We knew that our challenge was going to be keeping ourselves healthy enough to continue to serve others.

COVID dominated everything from our podcast topics, to revamping 420. The virus was “ruining” our business and grossly affecting our patient's everyday lives. Internally, we had still not solved our online ordering issues and had resorted to trying to take phone orders to better support curbside. It seemed like by April we were scrambling to continue to serve our patients, all while being in the critical planning stage of our new building. It was also at this time we started to understand that our timeframe of being in the new building by summertime was likely not going to happen. It was in April and May that we had to start adapting our plans.


May


In may the pain continued. We had to drastically reduce our hours to protect our staff. Our business was suffering, and no PPP money or any federal assistance was coming our way. We knew that our plight was not unique, and overall, the business was quite strong. With many of the events and promotional opportunities like the National Folk Festival and the Salisbury Marathon being canceled, we were able to accumulate some funds that we had not counted on. I knew that we needed to be mentors in our community and lead by example. I tasked Grace Broyhill and Brandon Bell with finding the strongest areas of need in our community and aligning the resources our company and our patients toward supporting these initiatives. We got after it. We were able to identify children who needed lunches with schools being out, supported Camp Hope, and many other initiatives right away. It was at this point the momentum started to come back to our sails.

We ended the month with a sneak preview of the new campus. A video was created by Brandon Bell that highlighted the new parking lot, Retail Space, Community Room, and the new dispensary. The walls are not up, and the construction is in the mix. It was an interesting time as COVID was still plaguing our business, however being able to see the campus come to life was fueling our fire, and kept us motivated.


June


On June 1 I took to Social Media to make two large announcements. First, I announced that Iheartjane was live, and predicted that it would be the most preferred way for our patients to place their orders. As of today, we have eclipsed the 50% mark, and online ordering is now the most preferred method of ordering. Second, I announced that with COVID and the lack of space at the old dispensary that patient services would be moving out, and into the new campus ahead of the official dispensary move. We also stated that Donnie Jackson would be the Director of patient services and leading all efforts on that side of the business under the guidance of Dr. Mary Pat Hoffman, our Clinical Director.

It was in June when a lot of behind the scenes work to bring the Peninsula Wellness brand to life started coming to life. We had selected Nicole Abresch to design a logo package for the new entity, and engaged with Sprout Creative to develop a new website and e-commerce platform for our non-cannabis products.


July


July started on a positive note with 2 new brands coming to our dispensary. First was the introduction of District Cannabis. PAH was able to get an exclusive relationship with District Cannabis, making our dispensary the only place on the shore with their amazing products. DC came into the market late but has quickly become a patient favorite, myself included. I am very much looking forward to seeing what they bring us in 2021. It was around this time that we started seeing more and more products from the “Cookies” brand produced by CULTA. The national fanfare that this brand has received is unprecedented. The future for CULTA and Cookies seems very bright.

July also represented a month where we were hyper-focused on getting the store open, and the website finished. We didn’t release any podcasts, and our outreach was limited, but the work accomplished being closed doors was tremendous. Again another shout out to Brandon Bell and Grace Broyhill.


August




August is when things started coming to fruition. At this point, construction was 95% done and final touches are being completed. We had contracted with Tony Weeg to create a promotional video that we dropped to tell our story. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. We held several private events to break into the new campus. First, we had Chrissy Ehrhart in to discuss how Sound Therapy can play an intricate part in your wellness journey. The leadership team had the privilege of attending a sound bath. I can tell you it was transformational. If you haven’t checked out Chrissy’s podcast you are missing out. Next, we had Jeri Miller in for our first Yoga class on the new campus. Jeri has been a great supporter of Peninsula Wellness and we are so thankful to provide her services periodically at our campus. Jeri also joined us on the podcast(filmed in August released 9/1). She tells her powerful story, and how yoga has played an intricate part in her recovery.

The month ended with our announcement of the Peninsula Wellness signature packages. The team put an enormous amount of work into creating these packages to tackle the most sought after health outcomes by CBD users. Sleep Well, Feel Well, Be Well all came to life. For the first time, we packaged offerings from our patient services division in the form of 2 - 15 minute consultations and our Tincture. The packages include other non-cannabinoid products that also support the desired outcome, such as a sleep candle in the Sleep Well package.


September



The sprint continued. First, we launched the new website peninsulamd.com This is an ongoing project and we continue to improve the site, but this launch symbolized the online presence of our new campus.

Also during the first week of the month, Gracy Broyhill and I hosted a pop-up at Sunburst Pharm in Cambridge. As mentioned previously it’s a blessing to have a good working relationship with Sunburst and other neighboring dispensaries. I am grateful Sunburst and several other dispensaries carry our Peninsula Holistics products.

On the 10th we announced that we would open our doors on the 16th for both the dispensary and the wellness retail store. Let me begin with a shout out to Cody Salerno and the team who allowed us to have a very smooth transition. Our dispensary was only closed for 1.5 days to move the entire store. Quite honestly it was almost seamless, and always we were able to get support from our local police department and the MMCC to ensure a safe transition.

The 16th was one of the most rewarding days of my professional career. The hype was real. On our first day, we served more patients than ever before. Our new campus was rocking, and Snow Hill Rd was officially in the history books. After our first day, the next two weeks were working out kinks, giving tours, and learning how to best serve our patients in our new space.


October



Looking back it seemed like as busy as September was October showed no signs of the campus slowing down. Early in the month, we released the podcast featuring Rachel Schulze, a certified dietician. We had an intriguing conversation about nutrition and cannabis. I had the pleasure of joining Greg Bassett on PAC 14 for a one on one interview. One of the takeaways many people mentioned to me was my comments on the applicability of prescriptions to pediatric patients vs medical cannabis. I feel very strongly that parents deserve options when treating their kids, and I will continue to advocate and fight to ensure parents will be made aware when a cannabinoid-based treatment plan may be an option for their child. The podcast guest continued with Grace Foxwell, Secretary of Kindness, and Pastor Martin Hutchinson. The work these two put into our community is tough to comprehend. I very much enjoyed our conversation and the opportunity for both of these great folks to promote their book “Love meets Life”

The on-campus events continued as well. We teamed up with the humane society during the month to promote our pet-safe tincture and raise some funds and resources for their organization. They brought dogs to the campus on two occasions, which was a real treat for our patients. On the 20th I hosted our first ever lunch and learn, CBD 101 in the new community room. We had limited seating due to COVID but we sold the event out in roughly an hour. Special thanks to Vicente at Old Towne for providing lunch to our attendees.

The month ended with the lunch of two more podcasts. First, Wendy Bronfein, and Rebecca Raphael from Curio wellness sat down with Chuck and me to discuss all things Curio. Curio is one of our most strategic partners, and their CEO Michael Bronfein is one of the professionals I admire most in our industry. It was a privilege to learn about how Curio became GMP certified, and learn more about their sleep product that just went through third party clinical trials. Lastly, we had one of our favorite Veteran advocates on Eryk Stamper. He talked about all things Vets and Cannabis, and we laid out a platform for community outreach and ways that PAH can better support our veteran patients.


November



November started with the Opportunity for me to get off the Eastern Shore for the first time in months. I drove out to Sykesville, MD to support one of our newest retailers unwind candles. It was great to talk with owner Dave Neith, and we have solidified a few projects for 2021 where we will be further collaborating. Stay tuned.We continued in-person events early but by the middle of the month cases of COVID began to rise again, and we had to cancel all of our extracurricular activities on the campus. This was a blow for many reasons, however like always our team iterates and advances towards our goal. At this point in the pandemic, we knew we needed to make significant investments in making our content more readily available online, and move to virtual events only.

We continued with our podcast series at the new campus. We featured Dani Hart who focuses on helping business leaders succeed by utilizing a methodology around Stress + Rest = Success. A big pillar is moving away from the Grind till you die mindset and setting boundaries and rules around your productivity. Next, we had Jermichael Mitchell on to discuss current issues facing our community and a new initiative that he and I are working on to utilize the game of lacrosse as a transformational platform for youth in our community that currently have social and emotional needs not being met today.

The month ended with two huge honors being bestowed upon me. First, Baltimore Business Journal announced its leaders in healthcare for 2020, and I was selected. Then, a few days later I accepted the 2020 Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur of the year award as well. Like I mentioned earlier, both are testaments to the great work being done by the teams at Peninsula Alternative Health and Peninsula Wellness. I viewed both of these accolades as proof and validation that the work we do matters and does not go unnoticed. Thank you again to my team.


December



We kicked things off with our first virtual lunch and learn. I dove into terpenes and minor cannabinoids and needed out. It was a lot of fun, and we proved that the virtual platform is a viable way for us to get our content out to our audience until we can meet in person.

Mike Cordoza joined us on the podcast to look at Cannabis at the national level. Mike was one of my first connections in the industry, and I value his insight. We talked in detail about social responsibility within the cannabis industry and how businesses like PAH can do more to ensure a level playing field for applicants.

December ended like most years. It truly is one of the busiest times of the year, and we are always so grateful for the holiday generosity of our patients. We had a very successful “Toys for Tots” campaign, and “Red Kettle Campaign” with a huge patient participation rate. We saw the ever-popular 12 days of Christmas return with our Vendors showing up in a big way, even though some of those pop-ups were virtually hosted. December ended with a bang. NYE brought a record-breaking day as we served more patients than ever before. I view this as a sign of optimism for our organization, and a sign of the growth we will experience over the next couple of years.

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As I write this blog we are still amid the pandemic with positivity rates the highest we have seen. On top of that I believe there is an underlying mental health crisis currently happening as well that is not being discussed, but yet I am more optimistic than I have ever been about our model. Our campus is built on wellness and was created to help folks that are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. I think 2021 will be a year where even more folks take their health and wellness into their hands and begin proactively working on themselves daily, and I take resolve as I know my team is here to support.