‘Historic’ Day For Medical Marijuana In Pa. As ‘Flower’ Goes On Sale

Photo Credit: Jessica Griffin

Thom Shannon was the first in line.

The medical marijuana dispensary on Old York Road in Abington wouldn’t open its doors for nine more hours. But Shannon, 43, already had been waiting 20 years.

“I was a little premature, but this day is kinda historic,” said Shannon, a burly former executive chef. “I thought this day would never come.”

“Dry leaf” marijuana went on sale Wednesday morning at 16 dispensaries across the state. Additional dispensaries will begin stocking it over the next week. Also known as “flower” or “bud,” dry leaf is the form of the medicine that is the most affordable and familiar to patients and recreational users alike.

A line of 100 people snaked around the TerraVida Holistic Center in Abington before the dispensary, a former animal hospital, opened its doors at 10 a.m. As Chris Visco, TerraVida’s co-owner, handed out doughnuts to the waiting throng, cheers erupted as patients were called inside.

Shannon, wearing an orange plaid shirt and khaki shorts, had his run of the store. He zeroed in on 10 different varieties that were packaged as single grams in opaque plastic bags. Though the bags were hermetically sealed, for the first time the TerraVida dispensary was perfumed with the lemony, skunky scent of unprocessed cannabis.

“I bought Star Killer, Hash Haze, Lemon G, Mob Boss, and a bunch of others,” said Shannon, who suffers from chronic pain brought on by herniated discs and fibromyalgia. “Traditional medicines helped to some degree, but the opioids, Xanax and other benzos I was taking had only limited effect and were highly addictive.”

Shannon, who left Aramark to become a stay-at-home dad in Glenside, said the prescription pharmaceuticals made it difficult to take care of his children, ages 6 and 2. “For years, we watched a lot of TV,” he said. “Now my oldest son recognizes the difference. Cannabis gives me a boost and focus. I’m more active and can play face-to-face with my kids on the floor.”

There was plenty left to choose from on the menu.

“Our next biggest seller is Salmon River OG, by Holistic Farms,” said Visco. “We’ve only sold flower today, not one other thing. And we’ll still have other strains that will last through the rest of the week. ”

Dispensaries across the state reported brisk sales. At Restore Integrative Wellness Center in Fishtown, patients bought as much as they were allowed, a maximum of 15 grams a week.

“The cheaper price points sold out in the first 45 minutes we were open,” said Restore’s manager, Rob Stanley, who said stores were allotted 15 pounds of flower. “We have enough of everything. We might run a little low, but we’ll have plenty. We’ve already done 90 patients in the first two hours.”

Shannon may have been the first patient to buy flower in Abington. But in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, another set of patients had a 10-hour jump on him.

In King of Prussia, Keystone Shops opened at 12:01 a.m. to become the first in the state to sell flower. A parking lot celebration heralded the opening with a DJ, free pizza and hoagies for patients and their friends. After the countdown to midnight, nearly 100 patients streamed through the doors before Keystone closed shortly after 2 a.m., only to reopen at 10.

“We’re swamped right now,” Keystone’s manager, Mike Badey, said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve sold out of a few strains. Lemon G and Bio Jesus are both very popular. I’m running off about 70 minutes of sleep. But it’s all worth it, though. We’re super thrilled.”

The state launched its medical marijuana program in mid-February with the sale of highly processed cannabis oils, tinctures, lotions and pills. After a bumpy start and product shortages, the state program has steadied itself. The state Department of Health has certified about 32,000 patients to participate.

Processed products are more expensive than marijuana in its raw state. Patients complained about the cost. Many on fixed-incomes, the elderly and disabled, could not afford the medicines, which are not covered by insurance.

“It seems like there have been a bunch of new patients coming in who had been holding off, saving their money for the flower,” said Lou Giannotti, pharmacist at the Liberty dispensary on Krewstown Road in the city’s Bustleton section. “They may have been hesitant to try the oils because they didn’t understand it. They’re more comfortable with the flower.”

To make the medicines more affordable, the state granted permission to several dispensaries on Wednesday to offer discounts of about 10 percent to veterans and seniors, said Health Department spokesman Nate Wardel. Previously, all discounts and specials were prohibited.

Traditionally, flower is smoked. Pennsylvania state law forbids combustion and requires patients to vaporize it with special devices.

Melinda Long, 49, uses a “volcano” to consume her medical cannabis.

“It’s kinda like a hookah,” she said. “I’d prefer to use a pipe or a bong, but in Pennsylvania you can’t. You’re not allowed to smoke joints, either.”

“There were suits and soccer moms there and everyone was happy,” Long said. “Some had tears of joy.”

For 17 years, she had been prescribed Vicodin and Ultram. She said she used marijuana to wean herself off the pain meds. At TerraVida, Long bought 9 grams of different flower packages.

At home in Hatboro, she vaporized a strain called Outer Space.

“I was in pain. And I felt better immediately,” Long said. “I cleaned the house! My whole outlook is clearer.

“I may sound all happy and giddy about it, but that’s because I don’t have to deal with the feeling of being on the pills anymore,” she said.

“I only wish Pennsylvania had done this a lot sooner.”