Pennsylvania's 1st medical marijuana dispensaries to open this week
Pennsylvania's first cannabis dispensaries will open their doors to patients and caregivers this week, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday.
"Pennsylvanians have been waiting years for this moment," Wolf said in a statement revealing details on when and where medical marijuana will be available. "Medical marijuana is legal, safe and now available to Pennsylvanians suffering from 17 medical conditions."
Wolf, a Democrat, signed the state's medical marijuana bill into law nearly two years ago with support from a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Between Thursday and Saturday, six dispensaries approved by the state Department of Health — including locations in Butler and Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood — will see their first certified patients and caregivers.
Westmoreland County resident Diana Briggs, 47, a registered caregiver from Export, has one of the very first appointments.
Shortly before 9 a.m. Thursday, Briggs plans to arrive at the Butler dispensary on Pillow Street called Cresco Yeltrah+, or CY+.
Her 17-year-old son, Ryan, who suffers from epilepsy, among other debilitating medical conditions, was among the first to be evaluated by Compassionate Certification Centers in December. She received a medical marijuana caregiver card to administer a cannabis oil that helps the reduce the number of seizures her son suffers daily.
She's elated that she'll soon be able to obtain and transport the oil for the first time without breaking state law.
"To be able to walk into a dispensary in Pennsylvania and have it all be legal, to legally have this medicine that has changed my child's life, I don't even know what that's going to feel like," Briggs told the Tribune-Review by phone Tuesday.
Under the law's "safe harbor" provision — which allows caretakers of those younger than 18 to obtain medicine from other states — Ryan has been taking marijuana for treatment. Briggs said his seizures have dropped from 400 a day to fewer than 100. She said he reports no negative side effects from the cannabis oil, except sometimes feeling sleepy, whereas the pharmaceuticals he'd been prescribed previously had side effects such as causing kidney and liver damage, requiring severe dietary restrictions and prohibiting contact with direct sunlight.
Ryan used to have to see his primary care doctor and neurologist three or four times a year for his symptoms, Briggs said. In the past two years, he has needed only yearly checkups.
In the past two days alone, he's had fewer than 50 seizures — a health achievement she once didn't think was possible.
"It used to be 400 seizures a day, and you would just cancel therapy, because all he did all day was seized," Briggs said. "Now, we're meeting goals with his (individualized education program) and health-wise. And the stress level in this house for my husband and I has drastically changed."
The CY+ dispensary — the first of 10 dispensaries approved by the state — says it has more than 100 appointments booked through the weekend.
Among other dispensaries opening this week:
As of Tuesday, 10 dispensaries and 10 grower/processors have been approved to operate
About 50 dispensaries were estimated to open statewide by May.
More than 17,000 patients have registered to participate, about 4,000 of whom have been certified by physicians. More than 700 doctors have been registered to participate, of whom 376 have completed the four-hour training course required for certification.
Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 17 qualified conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders and chronic, intractable pain for which alternative treatments have been ineffective.
Many of you have waited years for this moment. Medical marijuana is legal, safe, and now available to PA patients. Proud of the work so many have devoted to making #MMJ a reality in PA. https://t.co/bfDBbSluzt— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) February 13, 2018
Qualified patients can be certified by a doctor for $200 and purchase a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card for $50.
Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will be available in pills, oils, tinctures or ointments. Dispensaries are allowed to sell equipment such as vaping devices. The program forbids smoking marijuana in dry leaf form.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.