Stigma, safety and a green future?

June 14, 2022

By Caryn Anderson

The exterior of Curaleaf’s Happy Valley location. Photo: Curaleaf

Medical marijuana is still relatively new in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf signed it into law in April 2016 and the region’s first dispensary, Nature’s Medicines (now Ayr Wellness) opened in 2018. In February 2022, Curaleaf offered a second option and the latest dispensary, Verilife, opened its doors in April 2022.

We were able to connect with David Chiovetti, president of Verilife, and Beth Ferracone, Curaleaf’s director of retail marketing. Here’s what we learned about their industries and what the future for medical marijuana looks like in Happy Valley.

Overcoming negative opinions

When asked about the challenges of opening a medical marijuana dispensary, both executives said marijuana’s stigma was one of their biggest obstacles.

“As someone who has been working in the cannabis industry for their entire professional life, one of the challenges is always going to be overcoming the stigma attached to the plant,” said Ferracone. “Curaleaf seeks to make medical marijuana something everyone can understand, and you will feel that when you walk into each of our stores.”

Because the company understands that medical marijuana is a highly personal choice, Curaleaf offers a variety of forms, functions and products for all patients’ needs.

“As the number of medical patients continues to grow, we plan to grow alongside providing patients with quality products and services to make confident and informed decisions about their medical marijuana journey,” Ferracone said.

A rendering of the second phase of the Happy Valley Verilife buildout. Photo: Verilife

Chiovetti echoed the sentiment. “There’s still a little bit of a stigma. Sometimes, local residents and other businesses may be concerned with what type of element we would bring to that area,” he said. “There is still that stigma toward medical marijuana in general. But honestly, once we identify a location, we start working with the community immediately and the support we’ve gotten from the Happy Valley community has actually been tremendous. They've really embraced us, which is really important for us. We’re a fairly large, multi-state operator, but we want to look and feel like the local, neighborhood medical dispensary.”

While getting established, it’s important to work with local police and to make sure the location is compliant with regulations and guidelines. Chiovetti noted that when Verilife opens a dispensary, the area actually becomes safer.

He said, “Our commitment to regulations and safety means that there’s no loitering and no consumption. The area is kept clean and the opposite of what people expect is what happens. Because of that, the community has really rallied around us.”

When asked about the benefits of being located in Happy Valley specifically, Chiovetti said, “It’s one of my favorite locations in the entire portfolio, to be honest with you. As we all know, State College is well known as the home of Penn State University. Not just that university being an anchor, but also this thriving community of more than 42,000 people.”

The business of medical marijuana

“The Pennsylvania medical marijuana market continues to show excellent growth,” said Ferracone. “As of February 2022, more than 729,000 patients and caregivers are registered for the Pennsylvania medical marijuana program and eligible to obtain medical marijuana in the state. We're also excited about the recent passing of adult-use in our neighboring state [of] New Jersey, and believe it is a significant milestone that will increase access to cannabis, de-stigmatize the plant and generate much needed tax revenue, jobs and business opportunities in the Northeast.”

There are currently 23 qualifying medical conditions that make patients candidates for medical marijuana cards.

The State College Verilife team outside of the Happy Valley dispensary. Photo: Verilife

Chiovetti used his own mother’s experience as an example of how effective medical marijuana could be. Although never an advocate for cannabis, after struggling for years with insomnia and trying other remedies that left her waking feeling groggy, she decided to try medical marijuana. With the right dosage, she says she’s had the best sleep she’s ever had and has since become an ambassador for just how safe, lab-tested and easy-to-understand the dosage of medical marijuana is.

“When you actually change somebody’s life and they’re able to get better sleep or be more mobile or have less pain, it’s just great,” Chiovetti said.

The future looks green

Both companies are optimistic about the future of medical marijuana. Curaleaf looks to its 11-year history of serving medical patients and seeks to continue providing exceptional service in Happy Valley and beyond.

“Curaleaf is a high-growth cannabis company known for quality, expertise and reliability,” noted Ferracone. “The company and its brands, Curaleaf, Select and Grassrooms, seek to continue providing industry-leading service, product selection and patient accessibility in the communities we operate in. We strive to create more meaningful and inclusive experiences for our team members, patients and communities.”

Verilife also sees a bright future ahead. An expanded location is slated to open in late 2022, offering increased education and resources for an experience that can be tailored to individual needs.

“Sometimes, local residents and other businesses may be concerned with what type of element we would bring to that area. There is still that stigma toward medical marijuana in general. But honestly, once we identify a location, we start working with the community immediately and the support we’ve gotten from the Happy Valley community has actually been tremendous. They've really embraced us, which is really important for us. We’re a fairly large, multi-state operator, but we want to look and feel like the local, neighborhood medical dispensary.” 

Chiovetti noted he recommends people remain open to possibilities. “Once patients actually come into our dispensaries, that's when they really have their eyes open to how the space is changing and how it really is the future.”

“I think the future is bright for medical marijuana, as well as down the road, recreational use. We've seen with more and more research and scientific studies that we all learned about how much cannabis really helped people,” he concluded.

What do you think about how Happy Valley has embraced medical marijuana? Comment below to share your thoughts. 

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