SAFFORD — The Gila Valley’s first medical marijuana dispensary is up and running.

Medical-grade marijuana is now legally sold in Safford with the opening of Natural Remedy Patient Center located at 1362 Thatcher Blvd., near the intersection of 14th Avenue and U.S. Highway 70.

Upon entering the lobby, visitors are asked to show a state-issued identification card along with their medical marijuana card issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The lobby/waiting room also features a variety of cannabis literature and a strain guide that gives information about the variety of strains, medical uses and ingestion methods

Cardholders are then allowed into the product room that is protected by an electronically locked steel door as cameras keep an eye on activities inside and outside the building.

The aroma of the raw cannabis is evident in the lobby, but it is nothing compared to the product room where a bud tender explains the variety of available strains and the different prices. Currently, Natural Remedy Patient Center offers three grades of medical marijuana ranging from $15 to $25 per gram. It didn’t have any edibles available as of Friday; product should be in stock in the coming weeks, according to owner Kathy Sanchez.

Sanchez holds the dispensary certificates for the Graham County Community Health Analysis Area as well as Greenlee County and one for Gilbert. She owns and operates a dispensary in Clifton, Holistic Wellness Patient Center, and her Gilbert location, East Valley Wellness Patient Center, is expected to open in about three months.

Sanchez, who is originally from Silver City, N.M., said she wanted to be the provider in the Safford and Clifton areas because she remembered visiting the municipalities during high school sports contests. She said her desire is to provide the “medicine” to needy patients while benefiting the community.

“I know there (are) patients that need this medicine and are tired of the narcotics and the pills that come from Walgreens and CVS and want an alternative way of medicating naturally,” Sanchez said. “Our plan is to service (and) educate the community (and) be there for the patients.”

As a nonprofit entity, Sanchez said she wants to pour revenue back into the community by donating to homeless and animal shelters and helping out at the local schools.

“I want to help the kids with extra computers or whatever at the schools for educational or recreational purposes,” Sanchez said. “We want to give back to the local community there in Safford as well as in Clifton.”

While the current crop of cannabis at the dispensaries in Safford and Clifton are from either donations from caretakers or procured from other dispensaries in Tucson or Phoenix, Sanchez said she just had the first crop come in from the business’ 5,000-square-foot cultivation center in Tempe and will soon be offering 20 different strains. The site also has a kitchen area that is not yet operational, but Sanchez envisions a wide variety of edibles available in the dispensaries’ future, including brownies, cookies, chewing gum and soda pop. The dispensaries also currently carry a tetrahydrocannabinol-free line of medical marijuana-infused products that are high in cannabidiol for pain relief without the psychoactive effects. Strains particularly high in cannabidiol and low in THC are highly sought out especially for use in edibles for children.

The most popular way of administering the drug in adults continues to be through some form of combustion and inhalation. In that vein, Natural Remedy Patient Center offers a variety of water bongs, pipes and hand bubblers. As an opening special, the store is giving away a free glass pipe with each cannabis purchase while supplies last.

“We’re excited to be in Safford and serve the patients there,” Sanchez said.

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