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 (Courtesy Jason Sidwell))

NH's first medical marijuana dispensary opens; buyers hope for relief


PLYMOUTH — The first person to buy medical marijuana in New Hampshire has had four operations in the past four years for painful muscle ailments.

Jesse, a North Country resident who wouldn’t give his last name, said he’s tried opiate medications, massage therapy and acupuncture to halt his pain. “It hasn’t helped,” he said. “I’m hoping the marijuana will.”

On its first morning of operation Saturday, Sanctuary ATC (alternative treatment center), the state’s first therapeutic cannabis dispensary, had about two dozen people with various ailments waiting on its patio, many sitting on stools with canes or crutches at their sides.

It wasn’t clear what the mood was inside the dispensary. The only people allowed inside were customers who had registry cards from the state health department. Outside it wasn’t a celebratory crowd. Each cardholder had stories of physical pain. Many told of daily, extreme pain.

They said little about the cannabis they were about to purchase — strains with names like Charlotte’s Web. The topic again and again shifted to opioids. Not heroin use, not drug abuse in general, but rather, the negative effects of popping pain pills.

Philip Pouliot of Nashua was outside waiting for his wife, Rachel, who suffers from sciatica and numerous other nerve problems. As Philip described Rachel’s pain, she was in the Sanctuary ATC dispensary, going through orientation with the aid of medical professionals and Jason Sidman, the company’s CEO.

“She’s tried everything; nothing works,” Pouliot said. “Oxycontin, Demerol, Percocet, morphine. They haven’t done a thing for her.”

Sitting nearby, a cane under one arm, was Patrick Murphy of Franklin, who suffers from leg pain, the kind that keeps him awake at night and makes it hard to get around in the day.

“Opiates do nothing for me, either,” Murphy said.

“All they do,” another man said, “is make you need more and more of them until they aren’t any use anymore.”

“I don’t think many of us like opioids much,” said Sherri Levesque, a lupus sufferer. She said she had done hours of research on cannabis-based pain relief and was looking forward to her first dose of marijuana, which was cultivated in Rochester by Sidman’s company.

Sanctuary ATC was one of three nonprofits chosen from among 14 applicants by the state to grow the plants and run a licensed dispensary. The company is the first of four dispensaries expected to open in New Hampshire this year, said Rod Bascom of the state’s Bureau of Health Facilities Administration and Licensing.

The dispensary in Dover could open as soon as Wednesday, Bascom said. The other two, in Lebanon and Merrimack, will open later this year.

ATC cardholders can buy up to 2 ounces of marijuana every 10 days. Prices vary but an ounce was roughly $350.

Bascom was pleased with the turnout. The Plymouth dispensary — which is “more secure than any bank in this town,” he said, with cameras covering every inch aside from the bathrooms — has 150 registered buyers, who will be paying about the same price as marijuana buyers pay on the street, he said.

“But they know this is the safest, best-grown brand of the product,” he said.

Bascom also talked about opiates, especially New Hampshire’s drug crisis. Other states have been able to remedy, at least partially, their opioid problems by offering users marijuana in its place.

“Speaking only for myself, not for my department, I think (marijuana) is part of the solution for us,” Bascom said.

“When we started the program I was not a proponent, but I’ve done the research,” he said. “Marijuana is not addictive, there are no withdrawal symptoms when you stop. It’s not a gateway drug, either. Ask these people. They’re going the other way.”

As he spoke, Rachel Pouliot emerged, and the next person in line was escorted inside for education.
“I hope this helps,” she said. “Nothing else does.”

dseufert@newstote.com


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