Flower Power
TerraVida CEO Chris Visco leads the way in Pennsylvania’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry.
by Leigh Stuart

“I didn’t understand how this business would make me feel.” 
So says Chris Visco, co-founder and CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers, a family of three cannabis dispensaries with locations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.
“We are helping so many people,” she says. “We’re saving lives every day. There’s not a day that I don’t see a patient in tears. It’s an emotional roller coaster.”
Visco, a former buyer for the likes of Boscov’s and David’s Bridal, brings 25 years of retail experience to her current calling. She also has experience in politics and entrepreneurialism, as the head of her own firm, PJ’s & Coffee, as well as social media marketing. It wasn’t until entering the cannabis industry, though, that Visco knew she had found her calling. 
She launched the first TerraVida location, in Sellersville, in February of 2018, with second and third locations—in Abington and Malvern—opening their doors the following April and May, respectively. 
“My defining moment was February 17, 2018, when 115 very sick people stood in line to enter our dispensary,” she recalls. “Many of these people I spoke to on the phone. There is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for 115 people in wheelchairs, walkers, or oxygen tanks who show up at your door who need your help. The responsibility I bear for my patients can be a burden and a joy.”
In her book, no other career has been as uplifting, or as challenging, as this one. 
“The patients keep me in this business,” she says. “I’ve never done anything as rewarding as this. I’ve seen patients given four months to live turn around, and kids who have hundreds of seizures a day that now have clear EEGs. It’s miraculous what I’ve seen, and all from a natural, non-addictive plant.”
Served with Compassion
In the short time since she was granted a license to sell medical marijuana in 2017, Visco’s dispensaries have stewarded “hundreds and hundreds of people” away from a life of opioid addiction. She believes much of the credit belongs to the medical community in southeastern Pennsylvania, which has largely embraced the plant for its medicinal properties. 
Patients range in age from 18 months to 97 years. The average patient to walk through the door of a TerraVida location is nearly 60 years old, according to Visco’s estimate.
“People in their 70s, 80s come in with 10 pages of medicine, and we can attempt to reduce or eliminate it,” she adds. “At the end of the day, prescriptions are chemicals made in a lab. No one has ever overdosed from marijuana.”
For new patients, the process is streamlined to be as stress-free as possible. 
“On a patient’s first trip, he or she sits with a medical professional to have a consultation,” Visco says. “They talk about the patient’s condition, symptoms, the goal for the medication, what other medications the patient is taking, and then our medical professional leads the patient down the path that they believe will work well. They discuss dosage and then speak with a product specialist regarding specific terpenes, methods of use, and product details.”
All medical professionals undergo rigorous training in order to fulfill the role of adviser. They shadow in dispensaries, receive assessments, and are afforded copious continuing education opportunities.
“When we hire someone, that person doesn’t necessarily need cannabis experience,” Visco explains. “We can teach cannabis. What we can’t teach is compassion. … We have an amazing team of professionals who care about patients. We offer the lowest prices in the state and that, along with patient care by qualified medical professionals, is why we’re so successful.”
Visco’s team includes seasoned professionals handpicked for their experience and compassion. Ever so modest, she jokes that she stacked her team with “people who are smarter than me.”
“I made my team out of people excited to bring their experience in the cannabis industry to Pennsylvania,” she says. “Many people were excited by the opportunity to come home to work in this industry in their home state.”
In the state of Pennsylvania, Visco explains, all dispensary companies are required to have a pharmacist or physician on staff in one of their buildings. “We currently have pharmacists in all our buildings,” Visco shares.
‘This Is Medicine’
As for the stigma still held by many about purported ills of marijuana, Visco says this thinking is antiquated and should be put in the past. 
“When people push back about marijuana, it’s usually because they believe that it is a gateway drug, she says. “Marijuana is a natural plant. It is the oldest medicine in the world, referenced in the Bible and used by the Chinese for thousands of years. Marijuana has no physically addictive properties. … We need to move forward to reject manufactured chemicals and accept the idea that a holistic plant may replace pharmaceutical drugs as a healthier alternative.”
She has witnessed “thousands of people” reduce or eliminate their use of opioids. Some, but not all, of them move from stage-four cancer to remission, and some epilepsy patients return with clear EEGs. Also, for those who consider medical cannabis a potential threat to the community, rest assured; her patients include police, teachers, and military veterans.
Education is among her top priorities as a business leader. 
“Marijuana has a stigma that’s not real,” she says. “Marijuana can be dosed like any other medication. It has no physically addictive qualities and does not have to be smoked. Beyond opioids, there are many prescription drugs which can be eliminated from one's daily routine by using medical marijuana instead. No one has ever overdosed using cannabis and there are very few, if no other chemical drugs which can make the same claim.”
TerraVida was awarded its license as the only state-certified WBE (Women Business Enterprise), a designation Visco doesn’t take lightly. As a proud working mother of three, she strives to lead by example and show that, with tenacity and hard work, anything is possible. 
“I would ask business people who wish to enter the cannabis space, as I did, to learn, understand, and respect the cannabis community,” she says. “This isn’t a market where people whose only goal is to get rich will thrive. This is medicine, and our patients deserve our commitment to their health and the affordable access to their medicine.”
For more information on TerraVida Holistic Centers throughout the state, call (215) 836-1535 or visit terravidahc.com.
Photograph by Nina Lea Photography
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, September 2019.