Tim Smock drove 25 miles and waited outside in freezing weather for a half-hour Wednesday morning so he could buy medical marijuana to ease the debilitating pain of his multiple sclerosis.
He also spent about $600.
“My pain-management doctor recommended I try medical marijuana,” Smock said. “I have tried all sorts of pain medication and either they don’t work at all or they cause nasty side effects.”
Smock, a 40-year-old Albion man, was one of the initial customers at Rise Erie, Erie County’s first medical marijuana dispensary. The facility, located at 2108 W. Eighth St., opened for business Wednesday.
It marked the first time marijuana has been legally sold in Erie County. Rise Erie offers marijuana-based oils, vape cartridges, transdermal patches, gels and ointments to customers with medical marijuana identification cards provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
About a dozen potential customers, including Smock, were waiting outside when Rise Erie opened Wednesday at 9 a.m.
“We’re allowing only one person at a time into the lobby where they show their medical marijuana identification card,” said Tim Hawkins, market president of Pennsylvania for GTI LLC, the Chicago-based company that owns Rise Erie. “Once their ID is validated, they can head to our waiting area or meet with our pharmacist, and we let the next person inside.”
About 75 customers had visited Rise Erie during its first five hours of operation and another 25 showed up and asked how they can obtain a medical marijuana ID card.
Smock spent about two hours inside the dispensary, answering staff questions about the chronic pain he suffers from multiple sclerosis and learning about the different medical marijuana products.
He ended up buying vape pens and liquids he can drip under his tongue.
“I feel like I just went trick-or-treating,” Smock said after his visit. “They were great about explaining the products and how to vape.”
A week’s worth of vape pens costs about $60, though some customers use a lot more product than others do, Hawkins said.
Smock admitted he spent more money than he expected, so much that he had to call his father and ask him to bring money to the dispensary. Medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance in Pennsylvania and Rise Erie doesn’t accept personal checks or credit cards.
“There are still many banks and credit unions who won’t do business with us because we sell Schedule One drugs, even though they are legal for medical reasons in Pennsylvania,” Hawkins said.
No protesters gathered outside Rise Erie on Wednesday morning and several people beeped their car horns in support as they drove past the dispensary. One local charter school does have concerns about Rise Erie, though it’s about the dispensary’s name and not the products it sells.
Officials with Erie Rise Leadership Academy called the Erie Times-News Tuesday, asking for Rise Erie’s phone number. They said people had been calling the Erie school, thinking it was the dispensary.
“They wanted to set up an appointment for medical marijuana. We’re an elementary school, not a pot dispensary,” said Beverly Davis, a school secretary at Erie Rise, 1006 W. 10th St.
Hawkins said the school hadn’t contacted the dispensary as of 2:15 p.m. Wednesday but GTI officials later released a statement saying they would contact the school about the confusion.
“We are reaching out to the academy to discuss this issue and to work to ensure patients reach out to Rise Erie for information on Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program and not the academy,” the statement read.