Dispensary details discussed

Natalie Reid Miller
Observer Reporter

The co-founder of one of the first marijuana dispensaries to be permitted by the state Department of Health released details about the business.

Jay Richards, co-founder of the Healing Center, addressed Washington City Council Monday with plans for a dispensary at 799 W. Chestnut St.

Richards said the design concept for the business is an “iPhone center, Apple (store) meets a spa.”

“We want people to have a warm experience,” he said.

In addition to dispensing medical marijuana, the center will offer holistic services, such as yoga and massage therapy, at little or no cost to its clients.

The center is one of 27 companies across the state that are permitted to dispense medical marijuana. Those receiving permits have six months to become operational before they can dispense.

Richards said the state requires an inspection of the center by the end of the year, but he’s hoping for an extension because of the scope of work that needs to be done.

Richards said another location on West Chestnut, close to 799 W. Chestnut, is being considered because of its size. Either location would include a waiting room and client rooms on the first floor with offices on the second floor.

Planned security features include an exterior door entry into a vestibule, where a second door is locked until the client is identified by staff. Once a client enters, they give their prescription order to a staff member, then are escorted to a second room to get their medication. Richards said the medical cannabis cannot be consumed on the premises.

Delivery trucks will enter the building through a garage door that has to be closed before an interior door leading to the rest of the building is unlocked.

“This is the most highly regulated industry in Pennsylvania,” Richards said. “It’s more secure than a pharmacy.”

Richards said he wasn’t sure why the Healing Center was selected out of 77 applicants in the region, but believes Washington’s proximity to major highways and access to public transportation were factors.

Citing studies that claim fewer people use opioids in states that have legalized medical marijuana, Mayor Scott Putnam said he supports the business.

“If we can curb a little blight and somehow curb this heroin epidemic in some way, shape or form, I’m all for it,” he said.

A total of 52 dispensary permits will be issued across Pennsylvania. Each company is permitted to open three locations. Richards said the Healing Center also has sites in Monroeville and Cranberry, Butler County.

He anticipates the Washington location will open in April or May.

In addition to approving The Healing Center for a permit, the health department granted four other businesses in Southwestern Pennsylvania dispensary permits, including Maitri Medicinals LLC in Oakland, with a second center in Uniontown; Keystone Relief Centers LLC in Squirrel Hill, with a second center in Butler; and Keystone Integrated Care LLC in Greensburg, with a second location in Cranberry Township.

The medical marijuana program, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in April 2016, is expected to be implemented by early 2018. It will offer medical marijuana to Pennsylvania residents under a physician’s care for the treatment of one of 17 medical conditions, including cancer, chronic neuropathic pain, HIV/AIDS, autism, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis and severe seizure disorders.

City Code Enforcement Officer Ron McIntyre said the Healing Center has not submitted a zoning or building application yet. If a variance is needed, it would have to go before the planning commission and zoning hearing board.