The Pennsylvania Department of Health will announce the winning applicants for the medical marijuana dispensary permits this week, with Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties each set to receive at least one location that will sell the yet-to-be manufactured product.
Dispensaries will have six months to set up shop where the Pennsylvania-grown marijuana plants that have been produced into pills, lotions, gels, creams, tinctures and liquids will be sold to patients. The green plant or “flower” cannabis is not part of the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania.
The Delaware County Daily Times previously reported that Dr. Howell Strauss, who operates the AIDS Care Group at 907 Chester Pike in Sharon, had considered submitting an application to the state in hopes of opening a dispensary at 1300 Chester Pike, the current site of the Sharon Hill Rollers Club.
Sharon Hill Borough Manager Steve Travers said Monday that Strauss pulled his application the day before the deadline, citing federal grants he receives for his non-profit AIDS practice and his concern over establishing a business that remains illegal on the federal level. “He felt it could have opened up problems down the road,” Travers said. “As much as he wanted to do it, he couldn’t take the chance.”
A request for comment from Strauss was not returned Monday.
Strauss in March approached Sharon Hill Borough Council for the blessing of the governing body, a requirement under state medical marijuana laws, in order to establish the dispensary.
“He works in the community, he gives back to the community, and council felt he wouldn’t put (Sharon Hill Borough) in a bad position,” Travers said. “We trust him, which is a we benefit of living in the community for the last 15 to 20 years.”
It was the day before the applications were due to be submitted that Strauss met with Travers to extend his appreciation for the support, but had ultimately decided not to pursue the medical marijuana permit.
Travers said that Strauss will still purchase the property occupied by the Sharon Hill Rollers Club and will turn it into a screening office for his medical practice. He added that council fully supported Strauss’ bid for a dispensary because of his years of service to the Sharon Hill community.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17 of Lower Merion, who co-sponsored the state’s medical marijuana law, said it was a “shame” that federal laws deterred a well-revered medical practitioner from pursuing the emerging industry.
“People are nervous because you have Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is an insane person, threatening those trying to get medicine,” Leach said, who has made waves this year in his outspoken and brash criticism of President Donald Trump.
Leach cited the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, signed in 2003 that prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere in state’s medical marijuana laws, as an example of the federal government choosing not to interfere with state laws. Additionally, under former President Barack Obama the Justice Department shifted focus from individual users to the “most significant threats” in the areas of distribution to minors and growing the plant on public land; it was welcomed by proponents of marijuana legalization.
Last week, the state announced two permits for grower/processor operations that will both be based in Berks County. In the first round of permits in Pennsylvania’s budding medical marijuana industry granted two permits for each of six regions dividing up the commonwealth.
The southeastern region consists of Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Lancaster, Berks and Schuylkill counties.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 16 in April, which outlines the rules for growing facilities, dispensaries, the forms the medicine which can be manufactured, which medical conditions the medicine can be prescribed for, as well as rules for doctors and patients to participate in the program.
For the dispensaries, the state regulated a total of 12 dispensaries — two per region — in the first round of the permit process, and has limited the number of dispensary permits to 27.
For each dispensary permit, the state allows for three total locations. The primary permit is granted per county — Delaware, Chester, Berks, Bucks and Lancaster will receive one permit each — while the secondary permits will allow for locations in different but adjacent counties in the region.
For instance, a permit granted to a Delaware County-based dispensary will enable secondary locations in Montgomery and Chester counties.
Philadelphia will allow for three primary permits, while Montgomery County will allow for two.
In terms of capital, applying for a dispensary permit requires a $5,000 non-refundable application fee as well as another $30,000 fee which is refunded if the application is rejected.
And dispensary applicants also have to show proof of $150,000 in capital.
Montgomery County had at least 18 dispensaries file for a permit. Chester County had seven submitted applications while Delaware County had four. A search through the Pennsylvania Department of State for corporations submitted with the business names offered by the Department of Health revealed a cluster of permits requested in the Lower Merion area.
Between the areas of Bala Cynwyd, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne, Radnor and Conshohocken are 16 permit applications around the confluence of Delaware, Chester and Montgomery Counties.
Leach attributed it to affluence.
“That’s one of the problems with medical marijuana, there’s no insurance coverage for it, so if you locate in less affluent areas a lot of patients won’t be able to pay for it,” Leach said. “I’m sure it’s attractive to be in an area where that is not an issue.”
He added that he is hopeful for eventual federal coverage that will preclude patients from paying out of pocket for their medication.
Once the permits applications winners are announced, they’ll have six months to get operational for the first shipments of state-grown and sourced cannabis products.
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