CONWAY — Sanctuary ATC, Conway's first medical marijuana dispensary, is set to open its doors on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The facility, open only to clients, not the general public, is located in the former Citizens Bank at 234 White Mountain Highway in Shur-Fine Plaza.
Sanctuary, a non-profit, already operates a dispensary in Plymouth.
The Sun spoke to dispensary manager Forest Steinberg of Plymouth on June 20 as the facility was preparing to open.
Steinberg also runs the Plymouth dispensary, which opened in April 2016.
She said the move to Conway has gone smoothly.
“My personal biggest surprise while working here and getting this place up and running would be the amount of people stopping by,” said Steinberg, adding that some visitors said they obtained a card because Sanctuary was opening in Conway.
Others asked how they could get a medical marijuana card.
To buy medical marijuana in New Hampshire, one must be certified by a treating physician with having a qualifying condition such as cancer, chronic pain or multiple sclerosis.
Prior to the opening in Conway there were four ATCs operating in New Hampshire: Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire of Merrimack; Sanctuary ATC of Plymouth; and Temescal Wellness Inc. of Dover and Lebanon.
New Hampshire’s Therapeutic Cannabis Program divides the state into zones. Sanctuary operates in Zone 4, which is roughly Carroll, Coos and Grafton counties.
Steinberg said there are a little over 2,000 patients in Zone 4. She anticipated that over 200 people would become patients with the arrival of Conway’s dispensary.
The security at the Conway dispensary will be tightly controlled. Steinberg said when a patient seeks to enter, he or she will need to ring a doorbell. Staff are able to see the person though a camera and speak to him or her through an intercom.
The person will need to display an identification like a driver’s license along with his or her cannabis card. Once that’s done, the patient may enter and give their card and ID to a staff member and staff will enter their information into the system.
“Then we can guide them through the dispensary and help them with their purchase,” said Steinberg. “Security is absolutely tighter than most places.”
There are three different consultation areas, one of which is private, where people can discuss their needs with advisers. At the dispensary area, one can look at accessories and purchase a number of different products.
Steinberg said they have types of CBD oils that can’t commonly be found in regular stores or gas stations. She said Sanctuary CBD is made from a cannabis plant rather than hemp, which lacks significant amounts cannabinoids, like THC.
She said the CBD that they sell is much more effective. A chart she provided said that CBD can do things like relieve pain and anxiety.
"To activate the full amount of CBD, you need THC," said Steinberg. "THC boosts the effects of CBD, and CBD brings down the psychoactive effects of THC."
There are products that can be ingested in a variety of ways, such as smoking, vaping, taking in capsule form, sucking lozenges or consuming in foods like cookies and gummies.
Sanctuary is a "vertically integrated" organization, meaning they run every step in the process from growing their own cannabis to packaging it and bringing it to the dispensary.
Steinberg said she will be at the dispensary every day it is open, and there will be a team of three or four patient care advisers available to help patients.
She said first-time patients get a "consultation" to help figure out what their needs are, but patients can also seek advice at any time.
Steinberg said the cannabis indica strain has helped patients with Parkinson's disease because it helps bring down tremors, while sativas strains can reduce fatigue. However, she said people are not legally able to drive while on THC or CBD medications because it can slow reaction times and are mind-altering. Products are sold in child-proof containers.
Cannabis, she said, can be a substitute for opiates and can also help people break their addiction to opiates by breaking the cravings and withdrawals.
Before joining Sanctuary ATC, Steinberg was a nationally certified forensic therapist who worked with offenders and also was an addiction treatment therapist.
"I know all the medications as well as the qualifying conditions and how they interact," said Steinberg, adding she can explain how medications can improve people's lives.
"We have quite a few patients who are in need of hospice, who have stage four cancer, and they are not here just to purchase; they are here to know they are being supported and they have people to talk to."
According to her chart, six cannabinoids were said to "inhibit tumor growth/cancer cells."
The Sun asked Steinberg what to expect in terms of changes in the community after the facility opens.
She said there are a lot of misguided notions about dispensary patients but the reality is that most customers are over 40 years old and come from wide variety of backgrounds. Some are teachers, others are retired law enforcement and first responders.
"I'd say it's the opposite of the stereotype," said Steinberg. "The same people you would see at a pharmacy, you would see here."
Sanctuary ATC's Conway dispensary will be open Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Those hours will be expanded in the near future.