Pennsylvania officials on Thursday announced the first all-clear for a medical marijuana dispensary in the state to begin providing the drug once it becomes available from a licensed grower.
The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem received the state authorization, a major milestone in Pennsylvania's new medical marijuana program .
"It means there's going to be safe and effective access to a new medicine that can help (patients) in a wide variety of ways," said Victor Guadagnino, the company's co-founder and chief of business development. He said the company sees the drug as a way patients can take a more active role in their own health care.
Nine entities have been approved to grow and process medical marijuana, and their products are expected to be available to patients in the coming four months.
Gov. Tom Wolf said the approval is good news for patients and their caregivers.
"We are one step closer to providing medical marijuana to patients with serious medical conditions who desperately need this medication," the Democratic governor said.
Guadagnino, who lives in New York City, said the dispensary in Bethlehem will open this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but he does not expect to have the product available until mid-February.
The Bethlehem dispensary, which Guadagnino said is part of their multimillion-dollar medical marijuana investment in the region, will start with four or five employees and grow based on patient demand. The company also plans to eventually open two other dispensaries in the Lehigh Valley.
Acting Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said officials expect more dispensaries to open in the coming weeks.
The announcement of the first dispensary came as the U.S. Justice Department said federal prosecutors are being given more latitude to pursue criminal charges involving marijuana. In response, Wolf vowed to do whatever he can "to protect Pennsylvania patients."
A 2016 state law legalized medical marijuana for people suffering from one of 17 qualifying conditions, including AIDS, autism, cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and Crohn's disease.
More than 10,000 people have signed up. Among them, about 1,200 patients already have been certified by physicians to use medical marijuana. About 570 doctors are being trained or have completed training to be allowed to certify patients.
The law permits pills, oils, vapor or liquid marijuana, but not marijuana in plant form or what are considered edibles.