“Welcome to the 21st century,” Tony Iannelli, president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, told the standing room-only crowd at the official opening Wednesday of the Keystone Canna Remedies on Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem.
Keystone Canna Remedies is the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in Pennsylvania, signifying a major change in public attitudes about marijuana occurring across the country. The opening of the 26 other dispensaries, including five in the Greater Lehigh Valley, that were approved last June by the state Department of Health are expected to roll out over the next few months.
Although KCR had no products to sell – that isn’t expected until mid-February when some of the state’s 12 grower and processing plants are ready – it will hold educational workshops for the community beginning next week on topics such as the science of medical marijuana, understanding dosage forms and how to register as a patient.
The significance of the first medical marijuana dispensary’s opening was not lost on officials from state and local government and business people in the medical marijuana industry.
“Today, we are one step closer to giving patients medical marijuana who desperately need it,” Acting Secretary of Health and state Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said moments before the ribbon-cutting, also attended by John Collins, director of the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana.
Levine said medical marijuana will be one more “tool in the medical tool box” to help patients who suffer from epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer and seizures, which are among the 17 qualifying medical conditions approved by the state health department.
Levine made a special plea for more physicians to enroll in the state’s medical marijuana program, saying they play a critical role.
Nearly 600 physicians have been trained or are in the process of being certified to prescribe medical marijuana, while more than 12,000 patients have registered for medical marijuana cards in Pennsylvania.
‘DOING IT RIGHT’
Keystone Canna Remedies founders Joan Guadagnino, chief operating officer, and Victor Guadagnino Jr., chief business development officer, and Dr. Victor J. Guadagnino Sr., chief medical officer, were beaming in the airy, modern industrial lobby of the newly renovated building that once housed a heating, ventilation and air conditioning business.
Although the family, operating as GuadCo LLC, had preferred a property among medical offices in Baglyos Circle off Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township, they selected the Stefko Boulevard property directly across from the Just Born factory after a deal for the office fell through, paying $1.5 million to buy and renovate it.
Victor Guadagnino Jr. said he could not imagine he would be standing there at that moment when he and his family started the process two years ago to open a medical marijuana dispensary.
“Pennsylvania and the Department of Health have been doing it right, setting the bar for how medical marijuana should be done,” Guadagnino said.
GuadCo plans to open two more dispensaries – another in the Lehigh Valley, although not in Northampton County because state law prohibits a permit holder from opening a second dispensary in the same county – and another in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The small, 5,000-square-foot facility has a decidedly nonpharmacy feel, which was by design, said William Dohe, principal at R&D Architecture in Easton.
“We wanted a comfortable environment and for it not to feel like a typical doctor’s office or pharmacy,” said Dohe, who designed the building with Ryan Welty, lead architect.
Dohe noted they designed a welcoming, barrier-free space with the idea that people going to the dispensary are not feeling well and may be in chronic pain or have physical limitations. The pharmacy counter is low, which accommodates people in wheelchairs, and promotes a better conversational setting and eye-to-eye contact, he said.
“Our mission is education,” said pharmacist Bradley Carlson, who will meet with patients in one of the two glass-enclosed consulting rooms. “We get to know the patient and what dose is most effective. It’s no different than getting a consultation at a clinic.”
Patricia Gregory, vice president and general counsel to KCR, said, “Our approach is to start low, go slow.”
The cannabis forms approved in Pennsylvania include capsules, oils, creams, patches, tinctures and vaporization and nebulization products. All products will arrive at the dispensary already packaged.
Gregory said the products containing THC likely will be available before products that contain CDB, which takes longer to grow.
The pharmacy and the consulting rooms are separated from the lobby by a secure anteroom.
Patients will not be able to enter the pharmacy without checking in and showing their state medical marijuana registration cards to security guards.