Avoca native Mary Pat Julias wants to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Mayfield and Wilkes-Barre as part of a larger ambition: to offer a holistic approach to helping people become healthy and lead productive lives.
Julias is among hundreds of applicants statewide seeking 39 state permits to become part of Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana industry. Locally, she is joined by the owner of a hydroponic greenhouse in Wyoming County who wants to grow medical marijuana and the owner of a medical device firm in Bethlehem who wants to grow medical marijuana in Covington Twp., Lackawanna County, among others.
The state Health Department anticipates issuing medical marijuana permits for grower/processors and dispensaries at the end of June. Applications were due March 20.
“Our 90-day timetable to review, score and issue permits is doable,” Health Secretary Karen Murphy, R.N., Ph.D., said late last week.
The department is busy reviewing and logging more than 500 packages, many of which contain multiple applications for the two permit categories: grower/processor and dispensary.
Grower applicants had to describe their business, undergo a federal and state criminal background check, provide a statement that they are of good moral character, show how they can keep the marijuana secure and outline how they will hire a diverse workforce. They paid a non-refundable fee of $10,000 and a permit fee of $200,000, which can be refunded if a permit is not granted, and showed proof of $2 million in capital.
Dispensary applicants provided the same background information as grower applicants. They paid a $5,000 non-refundable fee and a permit fee of $30,000, which can be refunded if a permit is not granted, and showed proof of $150,000 in capital.
The permit review involves making sure that applications are complete and can be read electronically, said John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana. Applicants will be scored on various criteria, including their background, plan of operation, ownership, capital and tax status, and plans to hire a diverse workforce.
At this stage, the department is only releasing information on the trade names of applicants. Nothing on the principals, address and business plans will be released until permits are issued.
Those awarded permits then have up to six months to prove to the state they are operational. Once a grower/processor permit holder is deemed operational, they have 30 days to obtain seeds — most likely from suppliers in a legal state.
Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana a year ago. Medical marijuana will be available to patients who are certified by a state-registered physician starting sometime in 2018. The law makes medical marijuana available for a specific list of 17 serious medical conditions including epilepsy, intractable seizures and cancer. Patients will be able to take the drug as an oil, pill or liquid, but are not allowed to smoke it under the law.
The health department is charged with creating the supply chain necessary to grow medical marijuana in greenhouses, process the plant into oils and liquids, and sell the product to certified patients in dispensaries.
While the number of statewide applicants is high, local applicants actually compete in a smaller geographic pool.
The health department initially will issue up to 12 permits for grower/processors and up to 27 permits to dispense marijuana across Pennsylvania. Each dispensary permit covers up to three separate locations.
There are just two grower/processor permits and four dispensary permits available in the 10-county administrative region covering Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. The counties are Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Susquehanna, Pike, Wayne and Wyoming.
Locally, TheraGreen — a company created by a retired Hazleton police officer, Jeff Turse — applied to open a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Hazle Twp. Standard Farms applied for a grower-producer permit in White Haven.
TheraBloom, a subsidiary of van Hoekelen Greenhouses, applied to grow and produce marijuana plants in Kline Twp., Schuylkill County, which is part of the administrative region that includes Philadelphia and six other counties.
So far, the department has logged 20 applications for grower/processor permits and 25 applications for dispensary permits in the region. That number is expected to grow.
‘Going to get relief’
Julias and her business partner, Krista Krebs, applied to locate a dispensary in the former Panam Silk Mills site on Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre and in the Northeast Environmental and Technology Center, a new business incubator housed in a one-time vocational technical school in Mayfield.
Julias said the business, operating under the name Keystone Center of Integrative Wellness, will be able to operate within six months of securing a permit.
The business plan combines the dispensary with a human services center and job creation center so clients can get the medicine, health education, counseling and access to job training at the same place, said Julias.
Julias and Krebs have run other health-related businesses and started researching plans for this new venture two years ago.
“We didn’t go into it lightly,” said Julias.
She said the dispensary operation would have eight employees while another 15 to 20 workers would be involved with the wellness center. Julias and Krebs already purchased the silk mill site from Wilkes-Barre for a nominal price and plan to demolish the existing building.
Julias was asked on the application to show why medical marijuana is needed in Northeast Pennsylvania. She has a ready answer: The northeast region is considered a “hot spot” for high incidences of cancer cases among residents.
In rural Wyoming County, a greenhouse owner wants to branch out to grow medical marijuana.
Bill Banta spent the past five years engaged in his passion to produce food free of chemicals and pesticides. He operates a hydroponic greenhouse in Exeter Twp. that grows lettuce, kale and herbs for sale to customers looking for healthy food. He views his application for a permit to grow marijuana plants for medical uses under the trade name PA Harvest Company as an extension of that commitment.
“I’m happy that the state is doing this,” said Banta. “I’m hoping people who are suffering from a number of ailments are going to get relief.”
There is another aspect to Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program that greatly interests Banta.
The law creates a role for hospitals, universities and academic medical centers to research the best and new uses of medical marijuana to treat diseases. A new 5 percent tax on the sale of medical marijuana by growers and processors to dispensaries eventually will generate revenue to help support this research.
The state’s commitment to foster this research convinced Banta to go through the costly and time-consuming permit process.
“What’s important to us is the medicine,” he said.
Banta hired a consultant to guide his business plan and is building a new greenhouse to shelter the medical marijuana plants. It will be protected by both electronic and physical security measures.
Banta also applied for a dispensary permit under the trade name Flowering Hope with a location slated for Plains Twp.
Another applicant is looking to get involved with both ends of the business, too.
David Davis grows hops at his second home in Covington Twp. He is president of CPG Biotics LLP, a medical device company in Bethlehem. Davis regards participating in the medical marijuana program as an extension of a career spent developing devices to help transport patients safely.
Davis applied for a permit to grow medical marijuana as CPG Biotics on a separate parcel in Covington Twp. He also applied for a dispensary permit in Phoenixville, which is in the southeast region.
Davis looked for a potential dispensary site in the Northeast, but said he had trouble finding what he considered a suitable location more than the required 1,000 feet away from a school or day care center.
‘Time will tell’
Handing permits to growers and dispensaries is not the only thing on the horizon for the health department.
The department recently hired a firm, MJ Freeway, to create the registry for patients, caregivers and physicians to participate and the electronic system to track medical marijuana from the planting of a seed until the plant is processed, sold to a dispensary and then sold to patients.
Officials are developing procedures for patients to apply for an ID card and register physicians in the program.
Sponsors of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law said they benefited from the experiences of other states that legalized it earlier.
Some of those states are tinkering with their laws. New Jersey is considering whether to make more medical conditions such as osteoarthritis and Lyme disease eligible for treatment with medical marijuana. Legislation to give minorities a shot at obtaining medical marijuana growing licenses failed to win passage when Maryland’s state legislative session ended earlier this month.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society takes a wait-and-see attitude toward the new program.
The doctor-oriented group stresses the need for more clinical research with medical marijuana to address concerns about how effective it is for a wide spectrum of diseases.
A nonprofit group, Americans For Safe Access, issues an annual report grading states on how well their medical marijuana program meets the needs of patients.
Pennsylvania received a B-minus in the 2017 report.
Pennsylvania will face challenges in meeting patient needs in coming years because it doesn’t allow medical marijuana in an edible form, the report said. Pennsylvania should consider allowing medical marijuana to be grown in direct sunlight in agricultural areas, according to the report.
“Time will tell whether it (Pennsylvania law) truly helps patients,” said Jahan Macru, Ph.D., chief scientific officer for safe access.
Medical marijuana will be available to certified patients with one of the following 17 conditions:
• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
• Crohn’s disease
• Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord
• Huntingdon’s disease
• Inflammatory bowel disease
• Intractable seizures
• Multiple sclerosis
• Parkinson’s disease
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin
• Sickle cell anemia
By the numbers:
Estimated applicants: hundreds; 259 applications logged as of this week by Health Department
Grower/processor permits statewide: 12
Dispensary permits: 27
Locations for each dispensary permit: up to 3
Grower/processor permits in Northeast region: 2
Logged grower/processor applications in Northeast region: 20
Dispensary permits in Northeast region: 4
Logged dispensary applications in Northeast: 25
Counties in Northeast region: 10 — Carbon, Lackawana, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Susquehanna, Pike, Wayne and Wyoming
The scoring process for awarding permits includes:
• Background checks for applicants, financial backers and employees on a pass/fail grade
• Operations plan covering security, transportation, labeling, storage, etc.
• Diversity workforce hiring plan
• Community impact
• Ownership, capital and tax status to provide financial details
Link – Standard Speaker. Article by Robert Swift