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Health

Pittsburgh medical marijuana dispensary offers glimpse behind the scenes

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, 12:49 p.m.
The inside of Solevo Wellness in Squirrel Hill on Jan. 31, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The inside of Solevo Wellness in Squirrel Hill on Jan. 31, 2018.
The inside of Solevo Wellness in Squirrel Hill on Jan. 31, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The inside of Solevo Wellness in Squirrel Hill on Jan. 31, 2018.
Cannabis consultant Sara Gullickson shows off her necklace with a marijuana leaf pendant at Solevo Wellness medical marijuana dispensary in Squirrel Hill.
Ben Schmitt
Cannabis consultant Sara Gullickson shows off her necklace with a marijuana leaf pendant at Solevo Wellness medical marijuana dispensary in Squirrel Hill.

Step inside Solevo Wellness in Pittsburgh for legalized medical marijuana vape pens, tinctures, oils and capsules.

The 7,000 square-foot Squirrel Hill dispensary resembles any standard medical clinic with soft blue walls, bright lights, a reception area and airy waiting room with televisions and literature on medical marijuana.

Visitors to the Squirrel Hill marijuana dispensary, scheduled to open Feb. 15, will be greeted by a receptionist, show their necessary legal paperwork to gain access to products and visit with a pharmacist. Then they'll head to a showroom, where cannabis product samples are kept inside glass cases, make a purchase and continue with their day.

"The facility is absolutely beautiful," said national cannabis consultant Sara Gullickson, who is working with Solevo on its finishing touches. "Our goal is to not only be clean and pristine, but make sure we are welcoming everybody to experience our facility and really get educated on the new school of medical marijuana."

Gullickson on Wednesday toured a Tribune-Review reporter and photographer through what will be the first dispensary to open in Pittsburgh.

Solevo is in a formerly vacant building that stands alone near the Squirrel Hill Tunnel on Forward Avenue. Gullickson showed off the inventory rooms, soon to be full of medical marijuana products, and its high-tech security operation. The dispensary is constantly monitored by cameras.

"The first time people come in here, they don't know what to expect," Gullickson said. "They think it's going to be like a sleazy pot shop or something and so we always want to show off that next level of care that makes this an enjoyable experience for everybody."

Solevo's first shipment of medical marijuana will arrive soon from grower-processor Cresco Yeltrah in Brookville , Jefferson County, about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Gullickson said.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016. Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will be available in pills, oils, tinctures or ointments. The Health Department is regulating the program, which forbids smoking marijuana in dry leaf form.

Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 17 qualified medical conditions, included epilepsy, cancer, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

Qualified patients with a doctor's recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Dispensaries are also allowed to sell equipment, such as vaping devices for liquid forms, to administer medical marijuana.

Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance, similar to heroin. Because of the federal classification, the Pennsylvania market operates on a cash basis, without insurance.

Dr. Rachel Levine, the acting health secretary and physician general, has called on the federal government to reclassify marijuana and pave the way for more research.

"The fact that marijuana is labeled a Schedule I compound, limits the research," she told the Trib last week, explaining the federal classification means that the drug has no medical benefits. "One of the biggest issues we're dealing with is the way marijuana is scheduled."

Levine said she expects the medical marijuana program to be running statewide by May.

"Every week we have more growers and processors approved," she said. "The program is progressing very well."

Gullickson, who works for a company called Dispensary Permits, said Solevo will employ about 15 people.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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