In ‘historic day,’ Western Pennsylvanians buy medical marijuana for first time

Updated 22 minutes ago

Diana Briggs made the historic purchase Thursday morning, the first in Western Pennsylvania.

She emerged from a Butler dispensary with $178 in medical marijuana products for her 17-year-old son, Ryan, who suffers from epilepsy.

Briggs, 47, of Washington Township in Westmoreland County, received a Pennsylvania medical marijuana caregiver card to administer a cannabis oil and capsule medication that helps reduce the number of seizures her son suffers daily.

Facing reporters outside of Cresco Yeltrah+, she became emotional.

“I am beyond thrilled, she said. “There’s no more fear, no more stress for our family,”

Pennsylvania’s first cannabis dispensaries opened their doors to patients and caregivers Thursday. More will open throughout the weekend.

Cresco Yeltrah+ officials said more than 100 patient consultations have scheduled for their first week. About 15 people waited outside when its doors opened in Butler.

The dispensary carries more than 100 different, medical marijuana products including capsules, oils, waxes, concentrates and tinctures.

“I went in and we discussed different options for Ryan and what they had available today on their menu,” Briggs said of her visit. “Then I spoke with their pharmacist, who asked if I had any questions or concerns about the medicine, and then I got our product.”

Under the law’s “safe harbor” provision — which temporarily allowed caretakers of those younger than 18 to obtain medicine from other states — Ryan has been taking marijuana for treatment. Briggs said his seizures have dropped from 400 a day to fewer than 100. Briggs said he reports no negative side effects from the cannabis oil, except sometimes feeling sleepy, whereas the pharmaceuticals he’d been prescribed previously had side effects such as causing kidney and liver damage, requiring severe dietary restrictions and prohibiting contact with direct sunlight.

She said she wept as she drove to Butler to make her first legal purchase in the state.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic that today has arrived,” she said.

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, included epilepsy, cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

Qualified patients with a doctor’s recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Dispensaries are also allowed to sell equipment, such as vaping devices for liquid forms, to administer medical marijuana.

More than 17,000 patients have registered to participate, about 4,000 of whom have been certified by physicians. More than 700 doctors have been registered to participate , of whom 376 have completed the four-hour training course required for certification.

“We want patients to feel as comfortable in our dispensary that they would in their local pharmacy as they are now both places you can get medicine in Pennsylvania,” Cresco Yeltrah co-founder Charlie Bachtell said in a statement.

Carl Shaw, 34, of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, exited the dispensary soon after Briggs. He plans to use medical marijuana for chronic headaches.

“I’ve been given steroids and other drugs from doctors and have taken them from time to time, but they don’t really help, he said. “This helps dramatically.”

Pittsburgh attorney Patrick Nightingale, a marijuana activist, also purchased about $300 worth of medical marijuana products. He was certified to receive the medicine for post traumatic stress disorder.

“This is a historic day,” he said. “I can’t quite put into words how many years and how much dedicated grass roots activism went into changing attitudes in Harrisburg, to bringing people around to understanding that not only is medical cannabis into harmful, but it has incredible medical efficacy.”

Nightingale, executive director of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, embraced Briggs in the dispensary parking lot.

“We did it,” he said.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

Westmoreland County resident Diana Briggs was first in line Thursday during the opening of Cresco Yeltrah+, a medical marijuana dispensary in Butler.

BEN SCHMITT | Tribune-Review

Westmoreland County resident Diana Briggs was first in line Thursday during the opening of Cresco Yeltrah+, a medical marijuana dispensary in Butler.

Carl Shaw of Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood shows a medical card that allows him to buy medical marijuana at a Butler dispensary.

BEN SCHMITT

Carl Shaw of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood shows a medical card that allows him to buy medical marijuana at a Butler dispensary.

Diana Briggs, left of Washington Township in Westmoreland County, with Patrick Nightingale, of Pittsburgh, and Heather Shuker, right, of Marshall, during the opening of Cresco Yeltrah+ medical marijuana dispensary in Butler. Briggs and Shuker are caregivers for their children, who suffer from epilepsy.

BEN SCHMITT

Diana Briggs, left of Washington Township in Westmoreland County, with Patrick Nightingale, of Pittsburgh, and Heather Shuker, right, of Marshall, during the opening of Cresco Yeltrah+ medical marijuana dispensary in Butler. Briggs and Shuker are caregivers for their children, who suffer from epilepsy.