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Can stigma of medical marijuana go up in smoke?


Steve Marcus

An interior view of Sahara Wellness, 420 E. Sahara Ave., on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The facility is the first all-female-owned medical marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas.

Updated Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 | 3:50 p.m.

Editor's note: Before writing and submitting this story, the freelance writer worked temporarily to help publicize the Sahara Wellness ribbon-cutting. The writer said she did not have a direct relationship with the company at the time and has no current business ties with it.

Sahara Wellness Medical Marijuana Dispensary

An exterior view of Sahara Wellness, at 420 E. Sahara Ave., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The facility is the the first all-female-owned medical marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

The building is windowless, locked behind a gate and monitored 24/7 by a security guard.

Inside, however, it is warm and inviting. Art covers the walls, a fountain trickles and brightly lit display cases showcase goods.

The owners of Sahara Wellness — Nevada’s first all-female-owned medical marijuana dispensary — know their industry can be intimidating for many people. While certain measures must be taken for the security of customers and employees, Brenda Gunsallus, Alex Davis, Paula Newman and Stacey Huffman aim to make their facility welcoming to everyone, particularly women, who the owners say often are uncomfortable with using marijuana as a medical treatment because of the stigma attached to the drug.

“We are going to host classes and seminars, and have nurses come in to meet people and share their experiences,” said Gunsallus, general manager of the dispensary. “I also go over the process and the different strains one-on-one. What I feel makes us different as women owners is that we are going to spend time with each of our patients and get to know them as individuals. We really want to take care of them and make them feel safe and secure. Our motto is ‘patients over profits.’ ”

The women said they were inspired to enter the field by friends who suffer from seizures and other maladies, and were helped by medical marijuana.

“I met a 14-year-old girl who had been having 15 to 25 seizures a day, and six months after starting cannabis treatment, she was bowling and living a normal life,” Gunsallus said. “We just want to help people, and our major goal is to make everyone comfortable in seeking treatment, especially women and the elderly, who may be reticent because of the stigma of marijuana.”

Located at 420 E. Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas, the dispensary offers products and services to anyone in possession of a medical marijuana card. The ladies say they didn’t know that 420 was a code term for cannabis consumption until people started congratulating them on their address.

Marijuana has been touted for treating a variety of conditions — cancer, colitis, panic disorder, autism, appetite loss, arthritis, social anxiety, gastritis and glaucoma, to name a few — and the owners plan to teach customers which strains and forms of cannabis are best to treat specific problems. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds secreted by cannabis that are used for medicinal purposes, while THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, has more of a euphoric effect.

“Marijuana is real medicine,” Gunsallus said.

Cannabinoids can be extracted as an oil and infused in food, candy, soda, tea, honey, peanut butter, chocolate and more. For medical relief, people can drink, vaporize or rub themselves with marijuana, in tinctures, tonics, balms, salves, lotions, sprays or ointments.

The owners of Sahara Wellness plan to open a cultivation company, Circle S Farms, in North Las Vegas in March or April.

“There, the oil will be able to be put into tablets or capsules if the patient desires,” Gunsallus said. “The point is that people don’t have to smoke it.”

On the walls of Sahara Wellness are huge menus that list marijuana varieties. The dispensary sells varying amounts of marijuana, from a gram to a quarter of an ounce, and has large glass cases offering paraphernalia. Prices vary, but an eighth of an ounce typically costs about $50 plus tax. Only cash is accepted.

“There are different strains of marijuana to help different ailments,” Gunsallus said. “The different strains are from different plants. We offer 18 strains and will be adding more as they become available.”

Cookie Cross is good for severe pain, nausea and appetite loss; Pineapple Express, which is high in cannabinoids, is good for energy; Lavender treats anxiety; Strawberry Cough helps ease stress, and 9 lb. Hammer is good for pain.

“We recommend that a person start with the lowest dosage and work his or her way up,” Gunsallus said. “But people make their own decisions and administer it themselves or via their doctor.”

Cannabis also can be given to animals that have seizures.

Sahara Wellness gets its product from city-approved cultivators such as Green Life and Deep Roots, and the owners say they will continue to carry city-approved strains even when they open Circle S Farms.

“This is a small industry, and we are learning together,” Gunsallus said. “We are willing to work together to ensure that it’s a patient-friendly industry. It is highly regulated, and we all want to make sure we are all following the rules and that the medicine is safe for patients.”

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