Pa.'s first medical marijuana dispensary opens its doors

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A variety of medical marijuana packaging materials are on display during a grand opening for Keystone Canna Remedies medical marijuana dispensary in Bethlehem. The dispensary is the first in the state to open.

Pennsylvania’s first medical marijuana dispensary held its grand opening Wednesday, but patients still will have to wait another month until they can purchase their first products.

Located in a building formerly occupied by an HVAC company in Bethlehem, the Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary is designed to have a relaxed, inviting feel, say its owners, the Guadagnino family.

Renovations over the last five months have been considerable, but the office is neither state-of-the-art nor sterile.

Big glass windows, wooden paneling, and exposed brick surround a waiting room. Past a security desk and two clear doors is the main room, where patients can sit at counters and learn about a variety of medicinal cannabis products.

 For the grand opening, KCR displayed the empty packaging materials for items coming soon from one of the companies, Cresco Yeltrah, approved to grow marijuana in Pennsylvania. A sampling: cannabis oils, vaporization pens and liquid cartridges, spray tinctures, infused lotions, and liquid capsules.

The first legal cannabis was not planted until October, but growers are working hard to get products to dispensaries as soon as possible. KCR hopes to make medicine available by mid-February, said Victor Guadagnino Jr., director of business development.

In the meantime, KCR will offer tours and educational workshops on the basics of medical marijuana and the types of medicine that will be available.

“We have three goals: become a part of community, provide safe and effective medicine, and quantify the experience of patients so that we can continue to learn more about how best to serve them,” said Guadagnino, who also runs a private-practice medical office with his family in Brooklyn.

Gov. Wolf signed the state’s medical marijuana act into law in April 2016. People with 17 qualifying conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer, will be able to obtain an ID card allowing them to buy certain cannabis products.

More than 12,000 patients have registered for the program.

KCR is one of 27 initial dispensaries approved for business in Pennsylvania. Among the Big Marijuana companies that won permits here after opening medical marijuana businesses in numerous other states, the Bethlehem dispensary almost has the feel of a mom-and-pop shop.

But they’re far from amateurs. A main consultant has been Joseph Friedman, founder of Professional Dispensaries of Illinois, and he put them in touch with Bradley Carlson, then-chief pharmacist at a Minnesota dispensary.

Carlson clearly loves working with patients to find the medicine and dosage that will provide them the most relief. He thinks the Wolf administration has bought into a patient-first vision for medical marijuana relative to other state regulators, and he jumped at the opportunity to work for a dispensary run by people with experience serving patients.

“We are not serving clients — we are serving patients,” he said.

Qualifying patients who choose KCR will undergo a consultation with Carlson or another employee, during which they will go over their medical and medication history, Carlson said. Each patient will be guided toward products that KCR pharmacists think best address a patient’s particular medical condition.

KCR has not yet set prices, which will vary based on products. Health insurance does not cover medical marijuana, so all costs will come out of the patient’s pocket.

Each dispensary is allowed to open up to three locations, with only one per county. Guadagnino said KCR most likely will open its second location in Lehigh County and a third in northeastern Pennsylvania.