One year in

Mike Tony | Herald-Standard

Corinne Ogrodnik, CEO and cofounder of Maitri Medicinals, looks out the window of the Maitri medical marijuana dispensary on West Main Street in Uniontown during its one-year anniversary celebration there on Sept. 4.

A year after it first opened for business, the only medical marijuana dispensary within a 50-minute drive of Uniontown is still serving patients.

But now it’s serving a lot more of them.

Maitri Medicinals sees an average of 140 patients per day at its West Main Street location, said Maitri CEO and cofounder Corinne Ogrodnik, who had previously estimated daily traffic of 80 to 100 patients earlier this year.

Maitri celebrated its one-year anniversary in Uniontown with in-house massage therapy, menu specials and cupcakes, with staff members sporting peacock feather hair clips to go along with Maitri’s peacock logo, a symbol of health and wellness.

Ogrodnik said that the state Department of Health’s addition of anxiety to the list of approved medical conditions in the state medical marijuana program in July has brought in more patients in recent weeks. Certification clinics at Maitri’s West Main Street neighbor Bee You Café have also helped aid program access, Ogrodnik noted.

“What we can’t forget is … this is brand new to so many people still,” Ogrodnik said, adding that Maitri’s mission has been for everyone who walks through its doors to feel comfortable.

Medical marijuana first became available at state-approved dispensaries in February 2018. The longer the state’s medical marijuana program, Ogrodnik said, the lesser the stigma surrounding marijuana becomes.

“I think having the businesses that have been established in this market has really helped create the reputation that this is a professional industry,” Ogrodnik said. “ … I think once you hear stories about how people’s lives have improved, it automatically destigmatizes the act of consuming marijuana.”

Chronic pain remains the most common qualifying condition for which Maitri patients seek relief, Ogrodnik said. Second-most common is post-traumatic stress disorder, followed by anxiety disorders.

Jennifer DeLorenzo, an intake coordinator at Maitri, said that she never expected her job to be as rewarding as it’s been.

“It’s very gratifying,” DeLorenzo said, recalling visible improvements in the condition of patients with Parkinson’s disease after they start on medications dispensed there.

There are 36 physicians across Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties now approved to certify patients to participate in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, which has also permitted four dispensaries in the four-county area (the Healing Center in Washington, Solevo Wellness in Greensburg and RISE in Unity Township are the other three).

But Maitri still faces some of the same obstacles that all dispensaries face statewide.

Ogrodnik acknowledged that since medical marijuana is not insured, the cost of medical marijuana can be prohibitive for some.

“It’s definitely a barrier,” Ogrodnik said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine, and it is still considered a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule I drugs are defined as those with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, such as heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Caregivers registered with the DOH may pick up medical marijuana at dispensaries on behalf of patients, but Ogrodnik noted that the dispensary is still a restricted-access facility. Patients register for an identification card which they use to obtain medical marijuana at Pennsylvania dispensaries.

“We understand why the Department of Health has to limit visitors, but we’ve been hoping to be able to work with them to allow at least some advocates come in with patients,” Ogrodnik said. “We get a lot of elderly patients (and) if you go to any doctor, you need a second set of ears to really hear all that information that a doctor is telling you.”

Nevertheless, Maitri has momentum.

Maitri opened a second dispensary in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh in January, and is working toward opening a medical marijuana growing and processing facility in O’Hara Township that Ogrodnik said will allow Maitri to offer its own products to patients starting this winter and is evaluating locations for a third dispensary it plans to open.

“(W)e can talk to our patients, figure out what they like, what they don’t like, and that’s the kind of feedback that will help us to develop products that we’re seeking,” Ogrodnik said.

But West Main Street remains home to Maitri’s first location, and that’s something that Ogrodnik appreciates.

“Just our location itself, for one, gives us the feeling of really just being engaged in the day-to-day activities, the ebbs and flows, the rhythm of the community,” Ogrodnik said.

One year later, the people who work at 27 W. Main St. think it’s still a great place to make people feel better.

“I think the impact has been wonderful,” DeLorenzo said.

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