PA: Emotional Families Welcome First Sales Of Medical Marijuana

Photo Credit: Rebecca Droke

Business was brisk and then some on the first day of medical marijuana sales in Pennsylvania on Thursday.

Cresco Yeltrah’s CY+ dispensary in Butler opened Thursday morning in what turned out to be an emotional reunion of family members who had lobbied state legislators for years to get access to the medicine they’d found calmed their children’s seizures.

Two mothers, Diana Briggs of Export and Heather Shuker of Warrendale, were first in line and could hardly believe they would no longer have to make long drives, or board a plane, to find medicine for their children.

“Now we don’t have to worry about where we’re going to get it, and the legality of it,” said Mrs. Shuker. “And you don’t have to worry you’re going to run out of your supply.”

“I cried all the way here,” said Mrs. Briggs.

Later in the afternoon, meanwhile, the Solevo Wellness Center dispensary in Squirrel Hill saw its 27-slot parking lot overflowing by the time it opened its doors at 2 p.m. — with a line of nearly 50 people waiting to get inside.

Among the early arrivals were Bob and Irene Reese of Brighton Heights, who said they’d come hoping to find out if medical marijuana might ease her symptoms from multiple sclerosis.

“My legs, they are paining me terrible,” said Mrs. Reese, 74, who now uses a wheelchair to get around. “It’s getting to the point where I can’t even stand on them for very long.”

She had never used cannabis products before, she said, but, “I’m at the point where I’ll try anything. If it improves me 10 percent, I will be satisfied.”

Thursday’s opening of the two dispensaries marks two years since Gov. Tom Wolf signed the law establishing Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, and nearly a decade of lobbying by activists such as attorney Patrick Nightingale of Squirrel Hill, who with two partners recently formed Cannabis Legal Solutions law practice in Downtown.

On Thursday, Mr. Nightingale was one of the patients seeking medical cannabis at the Butler dispensary. He said his qualifying medical condition, post-traumatic stress syndrome, began shortly after his 7-month-old daughter Kathryn died of sudden infant death syndrome in 2005.

“I think about that every day,” he said Thursday. “It feels as raw as it did that day the fire fighters came up the front steps.”

To help him sleep, he said he paid $295 for medical hash oil Thursday, as well as products for vaping. He estimates the supply will last about a week and a half.

Larry Gaydos, 68, of Forest Hills admitted he was concerned about the possible cost as he waited in the line at the Squirrel Hill dispensary.

He qualifies for medical marijuana because he has glaucoma and nerve damage but said a speaker at a recent public session told the audience the medicine may cost $200-$300 a month.

If that’s the case, he said, “I’m done. I would not be able to afford that.”

For others, such as Mrs. Briggs’ son Ryan and Mrs. Shuker’s daughter Hannah, finally having access to legal, quality medical marijuana a short drive away is worth almost any price.

Mr. Nightingale credited those families and others who, after numerous trips to Harrisburg, finally convinced legislators to support legalizing medical marijuana.

“The legislators would not listen to private citizens,” said Mr. Nightingale. “They would not listen to veterans. They would not listen to cancer patients. They would not listen to the elderly.

“But they could not ignore these parents who wheeled in their children and took up residence in the Capitol rotunda.”