Pa.’s first medical marijuana facility OKed to operate

Even as they fend off a court challenge to the state’s medical marijuana program, state health officials have given their first green light to operations at a Pennsylvania grower/processor facility.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday said the Pennsylvania Department of Health has given Cresco Yeltrah LLC permission to begin growing and processing medical marijuana at its location in Jefferson County, in western Pennsylvania — making it the first facility to be deemed fully operational, Wolf added.

It won’t be the last, state officials said.

“In the coming weeks, we expect the 11 other grower/processors to be ready to grow and process medical marijuana,” acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We are working with them, as well as the dispensaries, to ensure the program stays on track. Patients are our first priority, and we want to get medication to them as safely and efficiently as possible.”

At the same time, however, the health department is fighting an unsuccessful permit applicant’s lawsuit against the permitting process. 

Progress and problems

Cresco Yeltrah is a partnership between Chicago-based Cresco Labs and members of the Hartley family, longtime entrepreneurs in western Pennsylvania. They were awarded a license in June, when the health department revealed the first round of licensees.

Signed into law in 2016, the state’s medical marijuana program is expected to be up and running in 2018. Cresco Yeltrah officials say their complete line of products will be available for patients statewide early next year.

The company had to undergo several health department inspections before final operating permission was granted. The company will now be able to begin accepting seeds and clones to grow medical marijuana, state officials said.

State officials continue to work with permittees to ensure they will be operational within six months, a release from the governor’s office said.

But a cloud hangs over the state’s overall program in the form of a lawsuit by Keystone ReLeaf, a Bethlehem firm that failed to score a permit and went to court over what it calls a “fundamentally flawed” permitting process.

Health department lawyers argued last week that the case should be dismissed by Commonwealth Court because Keystone ReLeaf still has administrative appeals before the Office of Medical Marijuana. A decision by the court is pending.

Another suit, by failed permit applicant BrightStar Biomedics LLC, was dropped earlier this month.

Cresco ‘pleased’

For Cresco Yeltrah, the news means the company can move ahead with its plans, which include construction of a cultivation center and laboratory at a renovated property in Brookville, Jefferson County, as well as dispensaries in Butler, Pittsburgh and a third location to be announced.

The firm will grow more than 30 different genetic strains in Brookville, officials said, and will produce a variety of pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products.

Cresco Yeltrah began construction on converting the Brookville facility, which covers more than 40,000 square feet, almost immediately after receiving a permit. The state’s approval for operation of its secure growing environment means the cultivation process can begin.

A full grow cycle takes about 120 days, company officials said, which will allow Cresco Yeltrah to make its products available statewide by February.

“Providing relief to patients across the state as quickly as possible is our focus,” company co-founder Charlie Bachtell said. “We’re appreciative of the support the Governor and his administration have given this program – always keeping their focus on the best interests of patients.”

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com.

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