SHAMOKIN — The shelves were bare this week during an open house at Verilife, a medical marijuana dispensary at the corner of North Shamokin and Independence streets, but the staff inside were eager to share details on the newest industry they hope will bring comfort to clients and new jobs to the area.
“We want to tell a good story,” said Jeremy Unruh, senior vice president of public and regulatory affairs with PharmaCann, the parent company of Verilife. “We want to help people come off of opioids and we want to bring in jobs and be involved with the revitalization efforts here. Shamokin is a town to tell that story.”
When Verilife officially opens Aug. 4 for its clients — all of whom must have a state-issued medical marijuana card — plenty of products will fill the shelves and cabinets inside the structure, and several employees will be on-hand to assist anyone who needs help.
According to the state Department of Health, 89 medical marijuana dispensaries are located throughout Pennsylvania. Others in this region are open in Selinsgrove, Bloomsburg, Williamsport and State College.
“We are a medical program regulated by the state Department of Health, and this was one of the regions in which we applied,” Unruh said.
Verilife has marijuana dispensaries in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Shamokin is Veralife’s second location in the state, with the other being located in Philadelphia.
Some of the staff who will be on-site at the Shamokin location come from other Verilife sites, but several are local residents who have faith that the product they will sell has actual benefits for people who suffer from a variety of ills.
Sarah Shepard, of Shamokin, formerly worked at a Nature’s Medicine dispensary in Selinsgrove.
“I met a woman who had migraine headaches every single day of her life. Within the first month of her using medical marijuana, she was down to three migraine days,” Shepard said.
Pennsylvania law demands that those who want to use medical marijuana follow a doctor-approved process.
“There’s a lot of potential for this (medical marijuana) to be great for a consumer in a positive way,” said inventory specialist Gregory Pfaff, of Danville.
Next, patients should register online at https://padohmmp.custhelp.com/app/login. Then, they will need to visit a doctor who is approved to participate in the medical marijuana program. The doctor will certify that they have an approved serious medical condition and are eligible to use medical marijuana.
A $50 fee is attached to the card, which will be mailed to the patient’s home after payment has been made. Once a patient has received the medical marijuana ID card, they may purchase medical marijuana at any dispensary in Pennsylvania.
What to expect
At Verilife Shamokin, customers will ring a bell at the locked front entrance to gain admittance.
A security team will verify that the person has a valid medical marijuana ID card or a caregiver card, said Renee Straup, Verilife outreach representative. The caregiver card typically is issued to a family member who is allowed to purchase product for a relative or child who cannot access a dispensary.
Upon verification, the customer will be allowed access to an on-site pharmacist who will interact with the customer to ensure that the best product is selected.
Different strains of marijuana may have different levels of the compounds that affect the human body and relieve pain and other symptoms.
“We have a medical professional on-site to help customers learn about the strains that might be best to provide relief,” Straup said.
The site also includes a separate showroom of products, with trained salespeople available to answer questions.
“We want to find the best solution for each patient,” said Gerald Knepp, pharmacist and clinical director.
What’s the difference?
Medical marijuana is harvested from the same plant that often is sold illegally as a recreational drug.
“It’s the same plant, botanically,” Unruh said. “What is different is the regulations.”
The medical marijuana sold at Verilife dispensaries is grown in secure greenhouses where soil, sunlight and other cultivation needs are carefully monitored, he said.
“There are no heavy metals. We use very benign pesticides — such as baking soda and peppermint oil — and beneficial insects like preying mantises,” he said.
When a marijuana plant reaches a certain size, “we change the lights to mimic mother nature, which makes the plant produce a flower,” Unruh said.
Growers harvest the flower, trim it and test it to discover the levels of THC it contains. THC refers to tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound known as a cannabinoid that is the main psychoactive, or mind-affecting, component of marijuana.
CBD is another compound found in marijuana. It is not psychoactive, which means it does not contribute to the “high” that marijuana users may experience.
Once the whole marijuana flower is tested and labeled, it may be sold to customers or “put in an extractor so the oil it contains can be used for extracted or infused products,” Unruh said.
A connection with customers
The bottom line, Verilife employees say, is to help those suffering from medical conditions safely find an alternative.
“We put safety, security and consumer protection out front,” Unruh said.
Education and outreach also are vital to the company, Straup added.
“The experience that someone has with us is very important,” she said.