BY JON O’CONNELL
PHILADELPHIA — More than two months after the first licensed shops opened in Pennsylvania, medical marijuana producers still struggle to keep dispensaries stocked.
Despite demand that regularly outpaces supply in many shops, growers and sellers alike are optimistic that the industry will find its footing soon.
“I think everybody was kind of just taken aback by how many patients we have coming through the doors,” said Chris Visco, president of TerraVida Holistic Centers, a dispensary company with shops in Southeast Pennsylvania.
She spoke alongside eight of her industry peers at the Cannabis Learn Conference and Expo on Monday in Philadelphia and said her company’s dispensaries have treated more than 4,400 people since opening its first shop in February.
“When we were getting into this, we believed that, with it being such a conservative state, there would be very few doctors who would sign up for the program,” Visco said, adding that now more than 900 physicians have registered with the state Medical Marijuana Program.
Gov. Tom Wolf made Pennsylvania the 24th U.S. state to legalize cannabis for medical use in 2016 when he signed the Medical Marijuana Act.
Cannabis investment firm Greenhouse Ventures is hosting the three-day conference where industry leaders said although Pennsylvania wasn’t first, it is leading in key areas, such as opening it up to treat more illnesses than most states.
Pennsylvania also puts a stronger emphasis on research with a first-of-its-kind program allowing medical schools to study the drug.
“PA is really surprising everybody,” said Charles Bachtell, co-founder the cannabis production and dispensary company Cresco Yeltrah. “Of these highly regulated, compliance-focused programs east of the Mississippi, without question, I think Pennsylvania’s off to the best start.”
Cannabis still has an image problem, panel members said during their one-hour industry status update. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency still considers it a Schedule I drug, which means the risk of federal agents shutting down any operation looms overhead perpetually.
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