By the time Sanctuary ATC opened its doors in Plymouth — around 11 a.m. Saturday morning — about a dozen people were already huddled around on the porch or hanging out in the parking lot outside, hoping to get in.
The state gave the medical marijuana dispensary the green light to open Friday afternoon. And by the end of its first day, the dispensary ended up served 45 people in all, according to its director.
For most of those customers, the process required some patience.
At first, only a few people were allowed into the building at a time. Once inside, patients had to fill out intake forms, and everyone had the option to meet individually with the dispensary’s medical director to talk through what products might be best for them, before they made their selections.
The process could take a while. And it meant everyone else had to stand or sit outside, sometimes more than an hour, for their turn.
Nancy Fronheiser from Tilton and Laurie Peaslee from Hill were among those who stuck it out through the delay. To them, at least, the wait was worth it.
“We got a free sample," Fronheiser said. "Well, not in there, but to take home. And they were very nice. They went over all the strands with us."
"They explained everything," Peaslee added. "I got morning meds. I got nighttime meds."
For the most part, Sanctuary's dark green building doesn't stick out among its neighbors along Tenney Mountain Highway, a short drive from downtown Plymouth.
Talking to people up and down the line, you learn that they traveled from Keene and Manchester, Pembroke and Nashua, and from towns across the North Country. They were looking for relief from leukemia or Lupus, or lingering injuries from bad car crashes and other accidents.
A lot of them, including Fronheiser, said they hoped medical marijuana might be an alternative to opiates.
"I have chronic pain," Fronheiser said. "I have a few herniated discs, which I’m currently on Percocet for. I’ve been on them for 10 years, and I’m trying to get off them. I don’t want to depend on a pill anymore."
Richard Vincent, of Loudon, was also one of the first people to arrive at Sanctuary ATC Saturday morning.
He serves as the patient advocate on the state's therapeutic cannabis advisory council, and he came to the dispensary opening for research purposes — but also for personal reasons, to talk to the dispensary staff about options to help with his multiple sclerosis.
"I have a whole day full of prescriptions that I take. But if this helps, then I can just get rid of some of the medications," Vincent said. "Some of the medications, if I go cold turkey, you know, I end up in the hospital. That's not a way to go."
New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013, but it's taken several years to get the program off the ground. Until now, there wasn’t anywhere for patients to legally purchase therapeutic cannabis in the state.
(For more on the years-long process leading up to the dispensary launch, check out NHPR's past reporting here. You can also check out this map of dispensary locations in New Hampshire and neighboring states.)
Since the state started issuing medical marijuana ID cards in December, some people have been able to travel to dispensaries elsewhere — thanks largely to Linda Horan, who successfully sued the state for her medical marijuana ID card while battling late-stage lung cancer last year. Horan died in February, but she was able to use her New Hampshire ID card to obtain medical marijuana in Maine during her final months.
Others who showed up at Sanctuary on Saturday said they’ve had to find other sources until the state-licensed dispensaries were ready to go.
Sanctuary CEO Josh Weaver says he knew people were eagerly waiting for his shop to open and that Saturday would be busy.
"We’re really excited. We’ve been able to talk to a lot of the patients over the last few months, and we knew it was vital to open as fast as we could," Weaver said.
A few people who showed up on opening day were turned away — because they were technically registered with another dispensary location.
You can only go inside Sanctuary ATC if you’re a registered patient or caregiver, and only if you’ve selected this particular dispensary as your chosen location for medical marijuana. You can switch that registration later on, but you have to go through the state first.
More patients could soon find relief in other parts of the state, though.
John Martin, one of the state officials running the medical marijuana program, says another dispensary operated by a company called Temescal Wellness could open as early as this week in Dover. Its other location, in Lebanon, is likely to be not far behind.
The third company selected for the state's medical marijuana program, Prime ATC, is still working on getting its cultivation facility ready to begin growing plants. It's expected to eventually open a dispensary location in Merrimack.
As of Friday, 613 patients and 39 caregivers were signed up with New Hampshire's medical marijuana program, according to figures provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.
So far, 147 people are registered with Sanctuary ATC, according to the state. Another 170 people are signed up with Temescal Wellness — 108 in Dover and 62 in Lebanon — and 136 with Prime ATC.