Changes in state’s medical marijuana program affecting local participants

After a few months dispensing medical marijuana, Abbe Kruger can cross off some of the unknowns and plan ahead.

The CEO of the Justice Grown Pennsylvania in Edwardsville knows what’s selling, who’s buying and why they’re using since the dispensary opened in February.

“The largest quantity is vape pens,” Kruger said of the most popular selling item that vaporizes marijuana processed into oil for inhalation.

At the July 23 “Medical Marijuana Mondays” outreach program at Canteen Park in Kingston that Kruger has been hosting, she filled in some of the blanks. Half of the customers are over the age of 50, she said. The makeup is pretty even between male and female. They’re treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer and pain. And they’re paying cash because health insurance doesn’t cover medical marijuana.

The federal government has enforcement powers for the possession and use of marijuana that’s still designated as a controlled substance. But so far it’s agreed not to prosecute participants in medical marijuana programs.

“We’ve been seeing a lot autism and epilepsy” in children, Kruger added.

All are qualifying conditions listed in Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in April 2016. It’s a work in progress, responding to the growing demand from residents for products that provide legal relief previously unavailable.

“What is new to the program is dry leaf,” Kruger said. “Dry leaf is coming.”

It’ll be here soon and that will likely affect sales at the Justice Grown’s dispensary in the Gateway Shopping Center and the two others it’s allowed to operate with it’s state-issued permit.

“We’re about to open up in Dickson City and Bethlehem,” Kruger said.

The Dickson City dispensary should be open in October and Bethlehem will follow, she said.

The dry leaf or flower of the plant must be vaporized and not smoked, according to the program’s rules. It’s availability will place more product in the dispensaries, cut down the delivery time and make it more affordable, Gov. Wolf noted after state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine in April said she would implement recommended changes to the program.

“Typically it’s going to cost less,” said Allbriton Robbins, chief marketing officer of Standard Farms LLC in White Haven, the only licensed grower and processor in Luzerne County. There’s less processing of the dry leaf compared to turning the plant into an oil for use in a vape pen, Robbins said.

Standard Farms and other companies with grower/processor permits are producing pills, oils, tinctures, topical ointments and liquids that contain the chemical compounds of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and cannabidiol or CBD. THC produces psychoactive or mind altering effects. CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive.

The addition of dry leaf could expand the program’s reach, a possibility Robbins supported.

“The program is an opportunity for people of Pennsylvania to take back control of their healthcare,” Robbins said.

The state issued a permit to Columbia Care Pennsylvania LLC to establish a dispensary in the county. The company received approval from the Wilkes-Bare Zoning Hearing Board to set up shop on Kidder Street. It is still under construction. The company opened a dispensary in Scranton on Keyser Avenue in April.

Abbe Kruger, CEO of Justice Grown Pennsylvania, right, speaks to a group interested in learning about medical marijuana in Kingston earlier this month. Kruger, CEO of Justice Grown Pennsylvania, right, speaks to a group interested in learning about medical marijuana in Kingston earlier this month.

By Jerry Lynott

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

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