Medical marijuana continues to be sold at state-approved dispensaries in Pennsylvania. The dispensaries are akin to pharmacies and therefore considered “essential” businesses.

At least one dispensary owner is working to ensure that card-carrying patients can still get their medicines if they get sick with the coronavirus.

Chris Visco, CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers, is asking for 100 volunteers throughout the state to become official “caregivers.”

A caregiver can pick up and deliver medical marijuana for up to five patients. Caregivers must be at least 21 years old, register with the Department of Health, and complete a criminal background check.

TerraVida will pay the state-required fees for each of those volunteers, Visco said. Adult patients can designate any individual as their caregiver.

“I’m doing it because we have immuno-compromised patients who should not have to leave their homes,” Visco said. “I also have a staff whom I want to protect. If I can keep sick people at home and from walking into the stores, it’s beneficial to everyone.”

Mike Badey, who operates the dispensary chain called Keystone Shops, said he had appealed to the Department of Health to allow several emergency provisions. He formally asked the state to permit home deliveries.

If the state will not approve that, Badey hopes that the agency will approve a process in which a patients can place an order in Keystone Shops’ parking lot and never leave their car.

“We think this is the fastest, most feasible way to socially distance individuals,” Badey said.

More than 274,000 Pennsylvanians have registered to become medical marijuana patients. About 173,000 of those patients are active in the program.

Visco said she already has paid the costs for 26 of her employees to become official caregivers.

The operator of three stores in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Visco said she’s ready to spend up to $10,000 to make sure patients can get their medicines delivered to them at home.

Medical marijuana is approved for Pennsylvania patients with any of 23 serious ailments, including chronic pain and anxiety.

Formal home delivery is prohibited by law. Unlike other medications, marijuana cannot be delivered to patients through the U.S. Postal Service or courier service.

“We’ve been really careful to follow the law and file exemptions,” Visco said.

Chris Visco, is president of TerraVida Holistic Centers.
TYGER WILLIAMS / MCT
Chris Visco, is president of TerraVida Holistic Centers.

A spokesman for the state Department of Health said it was considering options to assist patients during the COVID-19 response.

“In addition, there may be some logistical issues with trying to get fingerprints and get paperwork filed for this to occur quickly,” said Nate Wardle, the department spokesman.

Information about becoming a caregiver can be found on the state’s medical marijuana website. It may take four to six weeks to become approved to become a caregiver, according to the website.

To volunteer for TerraVida’s caregiver program, send an email to info@terravidahc.com and put “volunteer” in the subject line.

Badey, of Keystone Shops, said he had asked the state to increase the number of patients that a caregiver can serve to allow the existing network of caregivers “to expand 20 to 30 times instantly.”

Ilera, another three-store chain based in the Philadelphia suburbs, said it was planning to encourage more people to volunteer to become caregivers. “That’s in the works now,” said Ilera spokesperson Rosie Mattio. “However, because of social distancing efforts, we have not mobilized outreach yet.”

Several medical marijuana retailers reported an uptick in sales last week as customers prepared for a potentially long period of self-imposed quarantine.

“Patients were following guidance from the CDC and obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case they need to stay home, said Blythe Huestis, the vice president of retail sales for Jushi Holdings, which operates Beyond/Hello Dispensaries.