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Guest view: Cannabis contains seeds of economic growth

Last month, the York County Economic Alliance hosted our Economics Club breakfast series on the economics of the cannabis industry. We welcomed two leaders – GTI (Green Thumb Industries), the operator of RISE facilities that grow and dispense medical marijuana; and Groff North America, part of the Wyndridge Farm family, which has stepped into the industrial hemp and CBD industries.

It’s evident the cannabis industry is growing, thriving and impacting the economy in ways we have only just begun to comprehend. 2018 was the first year for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, and GTI alone experienced transactions totaling $132 million. By comparison, neighboring Maryland generated just under $100 million in its first year.

Industry leaders equate this to the forethought and inclusion of PTSD and chronic pain as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania. The projections after quarter one of 2019 are approximately $175 million.

With this volume of sales comes job growth. In the 10 states with legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 34 with medicinal use, the cannabis industry employs 211,000 people directly nationwide. And jobs grew 44 percent in 2018, making cannabis the fastest-growing job sector in the country right now. In Pennsylvania, only 90 people were employed in the sector at the beginning of 2018, and that has increased to 3,878 – if you’re doing the math, that’s a 4,208 percent increase (Yes, 420 is in that number).

And that is just medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania has also issued 350-plus permits for the cultivation of industrial hemp. In 2019, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 acres of hemp will be farmed in just Pennsylvania.

Groff North America is building Hemplex, right here in Red Lion, as an industrial hemp research park – the first in the United States. With the purchase of the HempTrain equipment, the company is able to process the whole plant, producing materials for health and wellness, textiles, automotive, agriculture, construction, logistics and other industries. It’s essentially the cotton gin for hemp.

The economic impact here is uncapped. For example, the CBD industry, hemp-derived, is projected to be a $16 billion market by 2025. Groff North America has also answered this call, opening Farmacy Partners physician-owned retail store providing hemp and CBD health care products.

The direct benefits, as we know, are the jobs and tax revenue generated, but indirectly, marketing agencies, banking systems, fulfillment centers, web developers and retail shops will feel this economic boom, as well, from the new market on the scene.

One of the most notable impacts will be to the farming industry, which experienced a $9 billion net decline in 2018, with the lack of a cash crop. Now, the hemp industry is breathing new life into the crop cycle. Hemp for fiber allows traditional farmers using large-scale agricultural equipment to earn strong profits from a rotational crop. Vegetable and tobacco-style farmers also have the opportunity to farm hemp for CBD and other cannabinoid extracts.

Regardless of your personal opinion, we can’t ignore the incredible and vast impact this industry is having in our country, our commonwealth, and our county. We’re proud these industries are leading the charge while calling York County home. It’s truly high times in YoCo.

Kevin Schreiber is president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.

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