Latrobe-area dispensary opens as legal pot booms
Latrobe and Unity residents will be able to get medical marijuana a lot closer to home beginning Thursday.
Things have changed a lot from six months ago, when Westmoreland County residents would need to drive to Pittsburgh to find the nearest legal medical marijuana.
“A year ago, if you had your card, you had to travel pretty far, depending on where you lived, to find a dispensary,” said Tim Hawkins, Pennsylvania market president for Green Thumb Industries, the Chicago-based company that owns the Rise dispensary.
There are 50 licensed dispensaries in Pennsylvania. With the Latrobe-area location open, 49 of them are operational, according to the state Department of Health.
More are coming. Each licensee is allowed to operate two satellite locations in addition to its main dispensary, which means eventually there could be up to 150 sites to get legal marijuana.
After that, the future is uncertain. State law allows a maximum of 50 licensees. The legislature would need to change the law for the program to expand further.
“I think 150 dispensaries spread equally throughout the state, or in heavily populated areas, is probably a decent amount to supply what the demand is now,” said Jason Erkes, spokesman for Cresco Yeltrah, a company with dispensaries in Pittsburgh, New Kensington and Butler, with more on the way.
If demand continues to grow, Erkes said, he’s hopeful the legislature will act to expand capacity.
There are more than 130,000 certified medical marijuana patients in the state, according to the Department of Health.
More than half of them qualified for the program because of chronic pain, one of 21 qualifying conditions, according to data obtained by Transforming Health, PA Post reported.
More than 3,450,000 medical marijuana products have been sold, worth more than $240 million.
“We saw over a thousand new patients last month, so it is not slowing down,” Hawkins said.
The most popular purchase, at least at Cresco Yeltrah dispensaries, has been dry leaf marijuana, Erkes said. Under state law, dry leaf marijuana can be vaporized but not smoked.
It is cheaper than most other marijuana products, and vaporization is the fastest-acting delivery method, Erkes said.
The Latrobe-area dispensary is the fifth Rise location in Pennsylvania. More are coming. GTI has five licenses and operates the dispensaries for one other licensee, meaning it can run up to 18 dispensaries.
“It continues our footprint across the commonwealth,” Hawkins said. “The more dispensaries that open, the more opportunity we have to serve the patients of Pennsylvania.”
Patients are becoming savvier as they grow more familiar with dispensaries and their offerings, both Hawkins and Erkes said. Where once they mostly would rely on recommendations from doctors and dispensary staffs, now they come looking for specific products and plant strains.
Hawkins believes as this trend continues, patients will develop favorite brands, which will give large companies like GTI an advantage.
GTI not only sells marijuana at its dispensaries. It also owns a grower-processor facility in Danville, Montour County, where it grows its products.
It operates in 11 states, which gives its “Rhythm” brand marijuana products, available from Nevada to Pennsylvania, national name recognition.
State officials are considering expanding the medical marijuana program by adding new qualifying medical conditions, including anxiety and Tourette syndrome.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .