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Medical marijuana dispenser has its best sales yet on 1st day that dry leaf form becomes available

August 6, 2018

Solevo Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, had its best sales day yet Wednesday — the first day it could sell marijuana in dry leaf form. Aug. 1, 2018

More than 70 cars packed into the parking lot of Solevo Wellness just off the Parkway East in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday -- more than an hour after the medical marijuana dispensary had closed its doors early amid its largest rush of patients yet.

A security officer told several disappointed patients they’d have to come back another day.

Family members waited in cars with the air-conditioning running -- some who’d been there for nearly two hours -- while patients sipped on complimentary bottled waters in the waiting room as they perused a menu of cannabis products.

The most popular selection: a choice of 24 strains of marijuana in flower form.

“Everybody’s like, ’Oh my goodness, it’s finally here,” and everybody’s rushing to come get it,” said Rocco Levine, general manager of Solevo Wellness, the first dispensary to operate in the city when it opened in February.

Medical marijuana in its natural dry leaf or flower form became legal in Pennsylvania for the first time on Wednesday.

Solevo Wellness joined about a dozen other dispensaries statewide -- including CY+ Dispensary’s locations in Butler and Pittsburgh’s Strip District -- in being the first to provide it on Wednesday. More dispensaries are expected to stock the product by next week.

Solevo alone saw more than 300 patients -- nearly triple the number on a typical weekday, Levine said.

“It was our largest day yet,” Levine said. “Even the first day we opened up was still not even close to that.”

Until this week, medical marijuana in the state could only be sold in more heavily processed forms, like tinctures, pills and vaporizable concentrates.

The law still prohibits patients from smoking dry leaf marijuana. It must be vaporized.

The state approved the sale of dry leaf marijuana in April.

In addition to being more familiar to and preferred by many patients, dry leaf marijuana “is one of the only forms that presents all of the cannibinoids that we can possibly obtain from the plant,” Levine said.

“So as far as the health and wellness side, that’s more potentially helpful for these conditions than a pill that was extracted and some of the cannibinoids were lost,” Levine said. “We don’t know every cannibinoid. All those together in the flower do so much more for the patient.”

Statewide, more than 30,000 patients have obtained medical marijuana cards from the Department of Health, with more than 100,000 others with applications pending.

“It’s climbing every day,” Levine said. “Those cards are being sent out every day of the week.”

The majority of Solevo’s more than 4,000 patients get prescribed marijuana for one of three reasons: chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer.

Heather Finnegan, 42, of Carrick, said she uses marijuana to avoid taking opioid painkillers and other pills she’s been previously prescribed for her diabetic neuropathy and PTSD. When she was 11, her mother was killed in a domestic incident in Penn Hills.

“It helps with the pain, it helps with relieving the anxiety and stress with the PTSD. It helps with a lot of stuff, and I’m glad it’s available in Pittsburgh now,” Finnegan said. “I use the liquid vape oils a lot, but now that the flower’s available, that’s a lot cheaper and a lot easier, so that will be my go-to choice.”

Dry leaf marijuana costs $12 to $20 per gram, or $45 to $65 for an eighth-ounce (3.5 grams), which is cheaper than the pen concentrate cartridges that can ring up $75 apiece.

Levine is hopeful that the lower prices will deter people from seeking to buy marijuana via drug dealers on the black market.

Levine said that Solevo has plenty of product in stock, unlike a few months ago when most of the items were sold out. He expects availability and selection to continue to expand as 12 new growers begin operations statewide over the next six months.

Qualified patients can be certified by a doctor for $200 and buy a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card for $50.

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