If you didn’t know what it was, you would never guess the purpose of the squat gray building.  The sign was a plain circle with “CY+” on it.  The name gave nothing away.  The sign was blue and white.  There were no green leaves anywhere.  It was located in the middle of an industrial park.  My appointment was at 11am, but the building was still dark and locked.  There were enough other people waiting that I figured they would open sooner or later.

I originally wanted to take a picture, to commemorate the moment.  The building wasn’t picture worthy.  It didn’t look like the historic landmark it was.  The skies were as gray as the building and the rain was falling in sheets.  There would be no picture of me smiling next to a sign. The parking lot continued to fill up as we all waited inside our cars in the heavy rain.   

“At least it isn’t snow.” I quipped.  We would have still come in the snow, but it would have been a bit dicier and icier.  

I prayed they weren’t accidentally closed for President’s Day.  I scheduled the appointment online, specifically for the first day my card was valid.  The first products available statewide were delivered on Friday, only four days before.  I didn’t want to wait a day longer.  Hasn’t 21 years been enough?  

I choked back tears of excitement and tried not to be impatient.  I had already waited decades, a few more minutes wouldn’t matter.  The dispensary was here.  It looked like a fortress.  Medical marijuana has finally come to Pennsylvania!  So many of my friends and neighbors told me, “It will never happen here.  We’ll be the last state.”  I was proud and excited to prove them all wrong.  I was what you might call “anxious.”  I made a nearly two hour trip to this innocuous locked building.

These were the first days of MMJ for our Commonwealth.  Things were certain to have some kinks to work out.  Their hours were not officially set.  I started to doubt the time I scheduled the appointment for, was it 11 or 11:30?  The street started to fill up with huge puddles of water.  I watched every car drive past and shoot up a spray of water as it hydroplaned.  I’d  never been to Butler before.  It looked like any other Pennsylvania town.  I thought they needed a better water drainage system.  

Eventually someone unlocked the door and stepped out into the rain.  I sprang from the car and started to run towards him.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized.  “Did you have an appointment?”

“Yes I did!  11 am!”  I greeted him with a smile and adeptly avoided a puddle. He tried to apologize again, but I didn’t care.  I was the first one in the door.  I already had my MMJ ID card in my hand.  I didn’t need an apology.  I needed inside.

“How are you today?” the receptionist greeted me after apologizing again about the late open.

“Great now!” I answered in a more cheerful voice than I usually use.  I bounced up and down and tried to listen to her explain the form she handed me.  I would sign anything she asked me to.

Finally, she stopped talking and buzzed me in.  I stepped into the waiting room.  It was like the nicest doctor’s office I had ever been too.  I choose a bright yellow, retro, cushioned chair.  There was a large table in the middle of the room that was made of a single slab of wood, with rough edges and high gloss, covered with Ipads with information to read.  I was in love.  

Someone else entered the room, clipboard in hand.  I gave him a big smile.  I hoped he was happy to be here too.  I wanted him to get relief from what ailed him. I was jittery and had already read every flyer in the room.  I scanned the information on the tablet mindlessly.

I wanted to ask the other patients that slowly gathered in the waiting room, “What are you in for?”  

I didn’t want to be nosey, but I intrinsically am.  We all looked slightly desperate around the eyes.  We were the hardcore ones.  The ones that drove hundreds of miles to get our medicine.  One older gentleman wore compression socks.  I don’t know how long they had been waiting for their medicine, but I know it was too long for me.  Anybody can get weed, that’s not why we were here.  

In fact, in Pennsylvania there isn’t even any “bud” or “flower” or “weed” available.  It’s all concentrates to vape or capsules, which were already sold out.  The Moms have been waiting a long time for them.  So many patients with seizures are pinning their hopes on CBD oil.  I don’t mind smoking, I’ve been smoking for longer than I like to admit.  But nobody wants to give their baby a vape pen.  But they do want to give them CBD pills to help calm their brains and hopefully decrease seizure activity.  

ONE less seizure is a blessing.  Ask any who lives with seizures or loves someone who does.  We are desperate for medicines that don’t rot our livers and rob our bones of calcium.  Desperate for something else to try before BRAIN SURGERY.  I have been offered brain surgery more times than I can remember.  Only one doctor offered me cannabis.  Which would you like to try first?

It’s NOT about getting high.  If I wanted to get high, I would.  I did on the way there.  I wasn’t looking for a buzz, I was looking for a specific chemical compound.  I did my research, I went in there ready to do business.  It’s all about the CBD oil.  I didn’t have any access to the CBD cannabidiol oils.  They are not the same thing as THC.  I didn’t have access to the refined oils that I need.  My friendly neighborhood drug dealer could not get me any.  I asked.  

I read success stories online everyday.  I belong to several online epilepsy groups.  I keep in touch with many other people living with seizures.  Many of whom are successfully treating their seizures with CBD oils.  I know other people who have flown or moved to Colorado to purchase the Holy Grail of Medical Marijuana.  I can’t afford to and don’t want to do either.  I do want to drive across town to get some medicine.  For the time being I will drive across the state to get some.  Or to be more specific, I will be driven.  My seizures stole my ability to drive.  But my Dad drove me.  (Isn’t he great?!)  It was almost two hours in the driving rain.  But what is two hours for a lifetime of hope?  

The first reviewers complained of the cost.  They claimed that they could get better prices on the black market.  Or Colorado.  We are not Colorado or within two days drive of it.  I don’t know what kind of black market you have access too, but these products aren’t found on my black market.  I can’t afford to travel to New Jersey or Delaware or California or any of the DOZENS of other states who allow MMJ.

Of course, I wish things were cheaper.  But the prices will stabilize soon.  There are only a few dispensaries open, the supply is limited.  Everything needs to be grown and processed here in PA.  Not everything is up and running.  I am happy to travel less than two hours to get a product I don’t have any other access to.  I like to take road trips around my home state anyway.  Butler had an interesting skyline with some pretty church spires nestled into the gentle slopes of Allegheny foothills.   

My dad told me not to stop smoking pot, use this in addition.  You have to love a parent that encourages you to use drugs…  But it’s not drugs anymore.  This isn’t weed, this is medicine.  My doctor told me so. It was so gratifying to hear the doctor tell me I might be able to control my seizures or at least alleviate some of the symptoms.  Finally a doctor agreed with me.  I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy in 1997.  I’ve wanted MMJ since.  It was already legal in California back then.  Finally, Pennsylvania will give me chance to treat my seizures as I see fit!

My hometown of Erie is set to have one dispensary, but there’s no firm opening date yet.  It’s not real until it’s open and I’m standing inside.  Or better yet, standing outside with a brown paper bag in my hand.  

If you didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t know.  The cannabis oil cartridge looked like any old tube.  The thick liquid looks like honey or amber.  It is so beautiful.  It holds so many of my hopes and dreams.  I didn’t have a seizure yesterday, and I haven’t had one today.  That’s a win in my book.

I’m not used to being filled with so much hope.

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