VERNON TOWNSHIP — Crawford County's first medical marijuana dispensary is now open for business.
The latest location of Rise Dispensaries opened on March 31, located at the former Key Bank office at 18914 Park Avenue Plaza. It is the 56th Rise dispensary owned by Green Thumb Industries Inc.
Tim Hawkins, vice president of retail field operations with Green Thumb, said the opening for the dispensary has gone well. The location has a unique feature compared to other Rise stores — a drive-thru window, left over from the building's days as a bank.
"Really nice, steady flow so people haven't had to wait too long in lines," Hawkins said when asked about how the first few days have gone.
The store donated the sales from its first day of operation to Women's Services, though Hawkins said an announcement on the amount donated is pending.
While regulations currently forbid people from purchasing medical marijuana online, shoppers at Rise can reserve products at risecannabis.com. Customers will be asked to set up a time during regular hours to visit the store and can then go through the drive-thru.
For example, "If you're a night owl, at midnight you can go online and place your reservation for 3:15 p.m.," Hawkins said.
The availability of a storefront with a drive-thru was a strong factor in Green Thumb picking the Park Avenue Plaza location.
"It's an old bank," Hawkins said. "It's suited for it perfectly."
Further, he said Green Thumb tries to open stores in small communities that might not otherwise have access to medical marijuana products. There are three relatively nearby stores — two in Erie and one in New Castle.
Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is only available for a select few qualifying individuals. It requires a medical marijuana card, which can only be obtained by people who have one of 23 conditions such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Hawkins.
While cannabis isn't a cure for such conditions, Hawkins said it can help relieve many of the most serious symptoms, such as the inability to sleep due to pain. He encouraged anyone interested in medical marijuana to educate themselves on the topic first.
The kinds of medical marijuana products offered at Rise vary. Flower — which can be vaporized — is the most common, Hawkins said, but other options include vape pens, tinctures, lotions, salves or capsules.
Customers do not have to use the drive-thru at Rise; in-store visits are allowed. Hawkins said the store has employees who can offer consultations or walk prospective patients through the process to qualify for medical marijuana.
"We always have a medical specialist on staff at all times," he said.
Masks are required indoors, and the store is routinely sanitized. The store has 15 employees, some of whom transferred from the Erie locations.
Vernon Township Manager Robert Horvat welcomed the store, though he didn't view it as different from any other business in the municipality.
"I don't think it's anything special," he said. "It seems to be the new thing ever since they legalized medical marijuana in the state."
Medical marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2016, though the products didn't become available until 2018 following an implementation process.
The Vernon Township Rise dispensary is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The store only accepts payment in cash, though ATMs are available on-site.
Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
*Editor's note: This story was edited on April 7 to reflect that the flower form of medical marijuana can only legally be vaporized in Pennsylvania.