PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A new medical marijuana center opened its doors to patients in Downtown Pittsburgh on Friday morning.
Carter Huber is a non-verbal 9-year-old with autism who was one of the first to show up with his mother at the just-opened Compassionate Certification Center in Two Gateway Center Downtown.
"It means everything to us, to our family," Carter's mother, Kelly Huber of Irwin, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano. "We're really excited to see what Carter's capable of. We know there's a lot in there, and we're slowly but surely getting it out."
Huber and her son met with Dr. Keyur Patel, a local physician recently certified by the state to evaluate and recommend medical marijuana for patients and their caregivers.
His partner, Dr. Bryan Doner, explained what happens in the exam room.
"We're going to take the patient, examine them, make sure they meet the state-mandated criteria and meet one of those 17 conditions and that medical marijuana would be a potential safe and effective alternative for their treatment plan," Doner said.
There is no medical marijuana in the facility.
This is just the first step in a process that leads to a medical marijuana card that will allow you to buy the medical cannabis at a dispensary when they open sometime in 2018.
One such dispensary -- The Healing Center -- broke ground Friday afternoon for their new facility in Monroeville.
In attendance was Diana Briggs, of Export, and her family who had earlier met with Dr. Doner.
"Today is one of the happiest days for our family," Briggs said.
To get a medical marijuana card for 17-year-old Ryan, who has intractable epilepsy, the Briggs came to the Compassionate Certification Center.
"It is truly the miracle that we prayed it would be, and it has allowed us to start giving Ryan a quality of life that we truly hoped we could but never truly imagined until it started happening for him," Briggs said.
Theresa Nightingale of Squirrel Hill, a cancer survivor, and her husband have been strong supporters of legalizing medical marijuana.
"We worked so hard to pass this bill, and it's a dream. I'm almost in tears," she said.
Nightingale was one of the first patients who came to the grand opening of the Compassionate Certification Center.
"Once the patient receives the approval for certification from us this will be processed by the state, and the patients will actually receive a medical marijuana certification card in the mail," Doner said. "They then take this card to the dispensaries and at that point, that's when they are actually able to get their medications."
Vietnam veteran Thomas Hite suffers from PTSD and says he wants a card to switch from illegal weed to medical marijuana.
"It helps me with the pain, too. Now they said it would help me eat, but it's not helping that way," Hite said. "But then again I'm buying stuff on the street. It ain't right. Everybody knows that, but you got to have it."
While PTSD and cancer are popular reasons for medical cannabis, young patients with epilepsy and autism like Carter Huber can also be helped.
"I really do. With some of these kiddos, their brains just need to slow down a bit. There is so much in there," his mother says.
The Compassionate Certification Center will be open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and another one of their centers will open in Butler next week.
There are currently 29 doctors in the Pittsburgh area licensed to evaluate and recommend medical marijuana cards.
The full list of doctors can be found here: pa.gov/guides/pennsylvania-medical-marijuana-program
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