Smoke Lifting On Cost Of Medical Marijuana Products In Pennsylvania

Photo Credit: Lake Fong

Patrick Nightingale was thrilled with the product, but not necessarily the price.

He paid $70 at the Cresco Yeltrah dispensary in Butler when it opened Thursday for a half gram of Lime Skunk medical marijuana liquid resin product to be consumed through a vaping device. A wax concentrate of a gram of Bio Jesus was $75.

“The prices I paid yesterday would be prohibitive for a patient on a fixed income,” he told the Tribune-Review on Friday. “I’m hoping once the market starts to regulate and other cultivators and dispensaries come on line, we’ll see prices start to come down.”

About 40 miles away, at Solevo Wellness dispensary in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the same amount of Lime Skunk was $10 cheaper and Bio Jesus on a menu for $60.

Both dispensaries are supplied by Cresco Yeltrah, currently the only operating marijuana grower and processor in Pennsylvania. Its cultivation facility is in Brookville and it owns three dispensaries, including the Butler location.

Eventually 11 more growers and processors will open as part of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Nightingale, an attorney and medical marijuana advocate, said he’d get a better price on the black market.

“From my perspective, I’m ecstatic that Cresco Yeltrah was able to meet operational deadlines and bring products to the market,” he said. “They’re the only game in town right now because they were the only ones ready for it. The product itself is very high quality.”

Prices ranged from $40 to $80 for products at both dispensaries analyzed by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and none was above $100.

Sara Gullickson, a national medical marijuana consultant who works locally for Solevo, said she believes prices will drop when more players join the market. By Sunday, six dispensaries will be open in the state and more than 50 are expected by May.

“What I’ve seen in other states is that prices can be high in beginning and then they even out as everybody gets more comfortable in environment,” she said.

Plus, the state Department of Health, which regulated the program, is watching.

“The Departments of Health and Revenue will be monitoring pricing,” Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said. “If prices for medication get out of hand, the law allows the state to cap the price for a period of six months.”

Cresco Yeltrah co-founder Charles Bachtell agreed that the market will adjust.

“These prices are in line with other truly compliance-focused and regulated medical markets across the country,” he said in a statement. “It is important to understand that the pricing in regulated medical markets is directly related to the higher cost of production—but the additional cost of production in safe/secured environments is what allows patients access to a variety of the highest-quality, consistent, repeatable, and lab tested/certified products that simply don’t exist in a black market.”

Nightingale spent nearly $300 on products for his qualifying medical condition, post-traumatic stress syndrome. He said the condition began after his 7-month-old daughter, Kathryn, died in 2005 of sudden infant death syndrome.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016. Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will be available in pills, oils, tinctures or ointments. The Health Department is regulating the program, which forbids smoking marijuana in dry leaf form.

Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 17 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

Because marijuana is federally classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the Pennsylvania market operates on a cash basis without insurance.

Diana Briggs, 47, of Washington Township in Westmoreland County was among those lobbying the state to legalize medical marijuana. She uses the drug to treat her son Ryan’s epilepsy.

Briggs, who joined Nightingale this week when the Butler dispensary opened, isn’t concerned about price. She has no interest in the black market. She spent $178 for the Harlequin medical marijuana concentrate and CBD capsules.

“What I have for Ryan will last well over a month,” Briggs said. “We are micro dosing, which means he gets one very small dose now at bedtime. A pain patient would certainly need more.”

Heather Shuker of Marshall also doesn’t mind higher prices. She’s using the medicine to treat her 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, for seizures.

“Compared to the expenses of traveling to another legal state to obtain a quality product and risking the legalities and expense of getting caught, I’ll pay the price knowing I’m getting a safe quality product right here in Pennsylvania,” she said.