Harrisburg-based medical cannabis producer to open two more dispensaries

PA Options for Wellness does business as Vytal Options. PHOTO/PROVIDED

PA Options for Wellness, a Harrisburg-based provider of medical cannabis products in the Pennsylvania medical cannabis market, will open two more medical marijuana dispensaries this month in the state.

The new locations will be at 716 Baltimore Pike, Kennett Square, opening Oct. 17, and at 1653 N. Alberton St., State College, opening Oct. 31. Both will feature on-site consultations, curbside delivery and an interactive pre-order menu.

A partnership with grower/processer FarmaceuticalRX has been developed to support the dispensary openings, with a proprietary strain “Keystone OG” being created.

“Pennsylvania has become one of the fastest growing medical markets in the nation and we are proud to be able to widen access to patients across the state,” Thomas A. Trite, CEO of PA Options for Wellness, said in a release.

“Providing therapeutic solutions, we focus on combining plant science and medicine to transform the lives of our patients.”

PA Options for Wellness’ other dispensaries in Pennsylvania are in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lansdale and the Lehigh Valley.

In addition to its headquarters in Harrisburg, the company operates a 65,000-square-foot grow/process facility, which includes lab space, in Duncannon, Perry County.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Senate approves cannabis banking bill 

State-legal cannabis businesses could have better access to banking and insurance services if a bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday receives approval from the House. 

The Senate approved Senate Bill 1167, authorizing financial institutions and insurers to provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses. 

The legislation was authored by Senators John DiSanto, R-Dauphin and Perry counties and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and would protect against state penalties for banks and insurers that service the medical cannabis industry. 

The approval by the Senate comes after the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee bipartisan approved the legislation in late March. 

Financial institutions and insurers received guidance in 2014 from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network regarding how they could service cannabis-related businesses. However, federal law does not currently protect financial institutions for servicing cannabis-related businesses. 

The legislation would codify that existing climate of regulatory non-enforcement, according to a release from DiSanto.   

It would also allow the state-legal cannabis industry to operate on credit. Currently companies are forced to operate strictly with cash, making them a target for armed robberies and putting patients and employees in jeopardy, said the release. 

HACC adds cannabis certificate programs  

HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, has added three certificate programs to meet the workforce needs of the expanding cannabis industry. The institution is partnering with Green Flower, an on-demand training platform built for cannabis professionals, to provide the eight-week, fully online programs. 

Graduates of the Advanced Dispensary Associate Skills Training, Cannabis Manufacturing Agent and Cultivation Technician courses will receive certificates of completion from HACC and Green Flower and have access to Green Flower’s employer network. 

Cannabis is a $25 billion industry in the U.S., according to Leafly, generating an average of 280 jobs per day. 

“As demand continues to grow for an educated workforce in the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania and across the country, HACC is responding to the need by contracting with Green Flower to give our students opportunities to qualify for entry-level jobs,” Vic Rodgers, HACC’s vice president of workforce development and continuing education, said in a release. 

Daniel Kalef, Green Flower vice president of higher education, added: “As the medical cannabis industry continues to grow significantly, leaders from the college looked to find ways for people in the area and beyond to become highly qualified to work in cannabis retail, manufacturing and agriculture environments and help ensure not only the continued growth of the industry in Pennsylvania, but growth in great part due to a well-trained workforce.” 

Cannabis banking bill approved by Pa. Senate committee

The Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee has given bipartisan approval to legislation authored by its Chairmen John DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, to afford state-legal cannabis businesses better access to banking and insurance services.  

Pennsylvania is one of 37 states having legalized medical cannabis. This quickly emerging industry has brought new businesses, jobs, and investment to Pennsylvania and has provided several hundred thousand patients access to safe and regulated products for the treatment of health conditions, DiSanto said in a release.  

While the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance in 2014 for servicing cannabis-related businesses, federal law does not immunize financial institutions from prosecution. As a result, licensed cannabis businesses have struggled to access conventional banking and insurance services.  

This industry’s reliance on cash operations has been a public safety risk as dispensaries are targets for robberies that jeopardize patients, employees and communities, said DiSanto.  

Senate Bill 1167 authorizes, but does not require, financial institutions and insurers to provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses.  

The proposal grants safe harbor protections from adverse state regulatory or legal action for servicing the industry. The legislation also permits Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry the ability to deduct ordinary business expenses when filing state taxes.  

Current U.S. IRS Code prohibits these deductions despite being standard practice for all existing non-cannabis businesses. DiSanto said tax fairness removes a punitive hurdle for operating a successful legal business.  

“Access to financial and insurance services is essential for operating any business and it is against the public interest to relegate a multi-billion-dollar industry to deal in piles of cash,” DiSanto said. “Banking this cash safely in Pennsylvania provides certainty for businesses, is a huge opportunity to grow our economy, and should ultimately lower costs for medical cannabis consumers.”  


Cannabinoid chemistry program partners with entrepreneur

The new cannabinoid chemistry program at York College of Pennsylvania is partnering with Steve Groff, founder, chair and chief medical officer of Red Lion-based Groff North America, a cannabis cultivation, extraction and formulation company.

The first of its kind in Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region, the bachelor of science program in cannabinoid chemistry addresses the growing demand for trained chemists in the field, a release explained. Students in the program will specialize in natural production extraction, purification and analysis.

Groff, known internationally for his work in hemp and medical cannabis, recently joined the college’s Chemistry Department Industry Advisory Council. He and his team will give the keynote address at the council’s spring meeting in April.

His business cultivates, processes and refines cannabis and hemp for businesses and researchers registered to handle Schedule 1 drugs. Groff North America is one of three commercially focused companies with Schedule 1 registrations from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for bulk cultivation of marijuana and the only one to possess a registration for patient dose manufacturing.

“The location of GNA provides ample opportunities for York College students to engage in experiential internships, research and hands-on training in hemp analysis and extraction,” Jessica Fautch, associate professor and chair of the chemistry department, said in the release. “As a global leader in cannabinoid research, GNA will inspire and drive publication-quality collaborative research with York College faculty and students.”

Calming coffee as Floyd Landis’ CBD cafe opens in Lancaster

Floyd’s Cafe of Lancaster, located at 237 N. Prince Street, has opened in a former tobacco warehouse. (PHOTO: MICHAEL YODER)

In July of 2018, Jake Sitler’s professional racing career came to an abrupt end when he was hit by a vehicle on his bike and broke his back.

Instead of taking the opioids prescribed for his pain, the York County native turned to his friend and mentor, legendary and infamous cyclist Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France. The Farmersville, Lancaster County, native had created a cannabis company in Colorado called Floyd’s of Leadville, and he was producing CBD products.

Sitler, who is now director of business for Floyd’s of Leadville, started taking CBD, which he says helped him manage the pain as he recovered. He saw the benefits of what CBD could do for people with pain, and that led to him looking for chances to highlight what the product could do.

One of his ideas led to the January opening of Floyd’s Cafe of Lancaster, at 237 N. Prince Street in the city. The space features a bicycle showroom and a coffee shop with CBD products from Floyd’s of Leadville.

“Jake saw the opportunity in Lancaster for Floyd’s products to do really well, so he pitched the idea of having coffee and a cafe,” said Jamie Sitler, his wife and manager of the cafe.

The roughly 1,200-square-foot cafe has seating for around 15 people at high-top tables and plush sofas with Floyd’s logo posted on the side. The spot showcase bikes from Van Dessel, which sponsors Floyd’s Pro Cycle, Landis’s professional cycling team. Some of the bikes are for sale, but the space is not a full-service shop for repairs.

The interior of Floyd’s Cafe of Lancaster was completely renovated over several months, providing space to sell CBD products along with bikes. (PHOTO: MICHAEL YODER)

The real draw for customers is the CBD-infused coffee roasted by Lion Head Coffee in Granby, Colo. The Stage 17 Dark Roast is infused with THC-free CBD, offering relaxing properties mixed with energy from the natural caffeine.

Floyd’s of Leadville’s line of CBD products, including gummy gems, creams and balms, nutrition bars and protein drink mixtures are also sold.

Food from the Kilted Griller, a food truck that sells sausages and sandwiches, will be offered in the future. Pastries are currently for sale.

Part of the concept for the cafe was as a home base in the region for the company that also has operations in Colorado and Oregon, Jamie Sitler said. They have been working with dozens of Amish farmers in Lancaster County to grow CBD hemp during the 2019 season, and they wanted a space to have meetings with the farmers.

Pennsylvania’s ‘Women in Cannabis’ talk about diversity, myths and the future

Four prominent women in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry spoke during an online panel on Wednesday. Clockwise from top left: Tammy Royer, Jackie Parker, Jamie Ware and Chris Visco. PHOTOS/SUBMITTED

Prominent women in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry shared their experiences Wednesday at  “Women in Cannabis,” a discussion hosted by Terrapin Pennsylvania, a grower/processor in Clinton County owned by Boulder, Colorado-based Terrapin Care Station.

The panelists talked about what led them to the industry, how they focused on diversity within their organizations and where they see the industry going.

“We are in our communities every day, hiring women and people of color and working to end the stigma of medical cannabis,” said Chris Visco, President of Terra Vida Holistic Centers, three dispensaries in Bucks, Montgomery and Chester counties.

Visco was joined on the panel by Jamie Ware, compliance officer for the Pennsylvania arm of Holistic Industries, a Maryland-based grower, processor and dispensary; Tammy Royer, president of Organic Remedies, a dispensary in Chambersburg, Enola and York; and Jackie Parker, community outreach director for Eastern Pennsylvania for Green Thumb Industries, which operates Rise dispensaries in Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and York.

“Our goal was to highlight the real-life success stories of women who are leading and making a difference in Pennsylvania’s emerging medical cannabis industry,” said Chris Woods, president and CEO of Terrapin Pennsylvania.

The panelists talked of the importance of diversifying the medical marijuana workforce as the industry continues to grow quickly throughout the state.

After two years of operation in Pennsylvania, the state’s medical marijuana industry has earned more than $500,000 between dispensary sales to patients and grower/processor sales to dispensaries, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The panel members spoke on the need to educate Pennsylvanians on the benefits of medical marijuana, targeting misinformation on the uses of the product and its benefits as a medicine.

“If we continue working together as an industry, we can be as impactful on economic growth as the natural gas industry or gaming industry,” Parker said. “We are creating jobs, building communities by repurposing underutilized or vacant buildings, providing revenue for the state and looking out for the health of Pennsylvanians.”

During the panel, Ware said that medical cannabis’ major speedbump continues to be its status as a federally illegal drug. She said that the nation still needs to address its framework for regulating the medicine.

“We are faced with myriad regulations that don’t have a meaningful impact on ensuring high-quality, safe products,” Ware said.

The Cannabis Challenge: Customers says ‘yes’ to hemp, ‘no’ to cannabis

While banned for decades, passage of the 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers to return an historic crop to their fields – hemp. More importantly, it made it legal for banking institutions to loan money to hemp-related businesses.

But few have chosen to do so.

There are only about 500 banks in the country that provide banking services for cannabis-related businesses, which includes hemp and medical marijuana.

In Pennsylvania there are only two: Customers Bank of Wyomissing, which offers services to those in the hemp business, but not medical marijuana; and Jonestown Bank and Trust in Lebanon County, services both.

While legal in 33 states, including Pennsylvania, medical marijuana is still not legal at the federal level, making it a bit too risky even for a bank like Customers, that prides itself in serving business segments where other banks fear to tread.

Romig –

Tim Romig, executive vice president and Customers Bank market director for Pennsylvania, said there is a reason Customers chose one and not the other. Hemp, thanks to the Farm Bill, is legal, cannabis is not.

“There’s a lot of confusion about hemp and how it relates to marijuana,” he said.

Hemp, a cousin of cannabis, contains only a trace of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that produces the “high” users seek.

“We do not do any banking with marijuana business in any way. It’s still illegal,” he said.

Hemp, a crop once so common in Pennsylvania there are municipalities named after it, is used in thousands of everyday products, from skin creams to fabrics, but until now American farmers were prohibited from growing it. Now that the law has changed, Customers wants to serve growers and processors entering the nascent hemp industry.

“We heard the testimony of businesses that had been with banks for 30 years, but when they started working with hemp the banks asked them to leave,” Romig said.

Offering traditional banking services to these business, including cash management, saving and savings accounts offers the businesses the stability and help that they need, he said. However, the bank is not offering loans to hemp businesses at this time.

He also noted that there is an extra layer of due diligence in the process.

“They’re not just walking in the door and opening an account,” Romig said.

He said, however, there are many proven stable businesses out there that are getting into hemp-related businesses that are a good investment for a bank like Customers.

So why aren’t more banks on board?

In a whitepaper on the topic, Customers president and CEO Jay Sidhu said that “Because newly created markets necessarily involve disproportionate uncertainty, many banks stay on the sidelines awaiting a proven-successful approach to emerge.”

Sidhu –

Such a cautious strategy might be right for some banks, but it’s harmful to businesses, such as hemp growers and producers trying to get started and provides an opportunity for banks like Customers that are willing to take a chance on them, Sidhu said..

“This slow-moving, cautious, risk-averse tendency creates tremendous market opportunities for industry leaders that are nimble and able to quickly adapt to market changes,” he said.

To be sure, because confusion remains about the difference between hemp and marijuana, public relations has been important for the bank as it moves forward. Customers has been working hard to communicate the message to its customers that it is offering banking services to a completely legal industry. And that it’s good for the bank, the community and the economy, Romig said.

There was little push back from customers, he said, but added that it was a slight public relations challenge. Because Customers was among the first banks to enter the much misunderstood hemp industry, he has received ribbing from other bankers.

At one meeting, a competitor referred to him as the guy from the “weed bank.”

In the end, he said, being known as one of the first Pennsylvania banks to support hemp will be a feather in Customers’ cap as market fears subside and more players enter the market.

“There’s no question other banks will be online, but we’ll be able to speak the language early,” Romig said. “Hopefully that will raise our reputation as a bank willing to go into a market that other banks don’t have the time for,” Romig said.


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The Cannabis Challenge: Risky Business

Keystone Canna Remedies, the first medical marijuana dispensary in the state, opened on Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem in early 2018. The family-owned and operated company leases the building from a family friend.


For cannabis entrepreneurs, finding a place to operate their business presents considerable challenges amidst the uncertainty surrounding the legality of cannabis.

It’s an industry rife with risk, but also opportunities.

On the one hand, property owners can often charge higher rents knowing that cannabis entrepreneurs have fewer options for finding space to set up shop. On the other hand, finding a building to purchase for a cannabis operation presents its own set of legal and financial challenges.

“A lot of property owners are very nervous about renting to cannabis businesses,” said Morgan Fox, spokesperson for The National Cannabis Industry Association, a nonprofit trade association and advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “State and local authorities can institute asset forfeiture.”

The threat of asset seizure by these authorities can make property owners less willing to rent.

While there are certainly risks, entrepreneurs could benefit from the changing attitudes and beliefs about cannabis as they look to offer a place for their products.

Cannabis entrepreneurs are sitting at the forefront of an emerging trend. While it’s a turbulent and uncertain one, it’s an industry that’s growing as new companies make inroads throughout the state to open dispensaries for medical marijuana.

Whether it’s better to rent or buy commercial real estate depends on the user, but Fox said property owners should not be afraid to rent to cannabis businesses. If property owners can view these businesses as those that could contribute to economic development through business and job growth, that could turn things around.

“The stigma is certainly starting to erode,” Fox said. “On the national level, it already has. Having cannabis businesses in their jurisdiction is beneficial to their cities and towns in terms of job creation.”

However, finding a place to locate continues to be a conundrum for these businesses. Often the places available to the industry are limited by local zoning rules, he said. Municipalities may force these businesses into industrial zones, which cuts down the number of properties available to them.


Legal concerns

In addition, state-mandated security regulations are tough, Fox said, partly because few banks are willing to provide services to the industry because of its murky legal status. That complication forces many to be cash-only, which creates crime risks.

There were many rules that made it hard to sell to a grower or seller, said Tom Skeans, managing director of SVN Imperial Realty, a brokerage firm in South Whitehall Township.

“From the brokerage side, [the firm] really wasn’t going to get involved in it because of the risk,” Skeans said. “Normally, if you have a small tenant, the only risk factor is, are they going to succeed?”

As a broker, Skeans said he has made an intentional choice not to get involved in this industry because it’s so heavily regulated, particularly because banks are federally regulated and it is federally illegal to sell marijuana.

Until the legal questions are resolved, cannabis entrepreneurs will be better off owning their shops, he said. And that’s a tough choice.

“In general, for a business, renting is always going to be better because you have an easier exit, Skeans said. “Buying and selling real estate is really expensive.”


Dealing with uncertainty

Since distribution and sales remain illegal under federal law, that creates uncertainty, particularly as it relates to the enforcement of contracts with cannabis businesses, said Paul McGinley, a partner in the Allentown law firm Gross McGinley LLP.

It affects their ability to get property insurance, title insurance and to ensure the validity of their leases, he added.

“Until the federal government says that cannabis is no longer a controlled substance, there’s going to continue to be some uncertainty,” McGinley said. “What we are hearing is that it’s driving those businesses to use state credit unions as opposed to fiduciary-chartered banks.”

Generally, banks do not want to do business with a business that’s illegal under federal law, McGinley said.

While Pennsylvania allows marijuana dispensaries, it’s unclear what the federal government would do should it decide to step in, McGinley said. So far, the U.S. Justice Department is leaving these facilities alone.

“The good news from the cannabis industry point of view is that while federal law continues to say cannabis cultivation and production is illegal, there’s no appetite at the federal level to enforce that statute,” McGinley said. “Cannabis seems to be a very fast growing industry.”

In the meantime, property owners are trying to write provisions into their leases that protect them from potential federal enforcement practices. Essentially, the provision would outline how the tenant would conduct him or herself in a legal fashion, often requiring a large security deposit, he added.

On the purchasing side, buyers would need to prove they can obtain title insurance, even for a lawful dispensary business in Pennsylvania.

In other states, some cannabis businesses are bifurcating their operations, creating one entity as the licensed business and a separate one as the property owner, he said.


Getting creative

McGinley has seen massive growth in public support to legalize medical marijuana, as well pressure on states to legalize recreational use. That, he thinks, is giving many entrepreneurs the confidence to enter the industry.

One Lehigh Valley dispensary has established a rare real estate arrangement.

“Because of our business and the federal illegality of it, my preference was always to have a standalone building and not deal with lenders or tenants,” said Patricia Gregory, a lawyer at PG&R Law Firm.

Gregory is one of the owners of Keystone Canna Remedies, the first medical-marijuana dispensary in the state. The family owned and operated company leases the Bethlehem building from a family friend.

The building, which sits on Stefko Boulevard across from the Just Born factory, opened in early 2018. While it may be along a fairly high-traffic area, the building is not considered in the real estate world to be a Class-A (often newer, higher quality) property.

And one of the key reasons Gregory chose it.

“When I’m looking for real estate, I discard Class-A real estate,” she said. “Most of those kinds of properties have tenants that have use restrictions on the property. My preference is always to try to look for a nice location and stay away from Class-A properties.”

As a commercial real estate attorney, has seen many properties with marijuana use restrictions. However, among Class-D and C properties, a buyer can find less restrictive requirements.

She also believes that as long as cannabis business tenants are structuring their leases appropriately in their negotiations with property owners, they should have protection from legal pitfalls.

One tip would be to include numerous renewal options, she said. In addition, from a tenant’s perspective, it’s good to make sure the lease terms are tied to the market rent for retailers in general, not specific to cannabis users, which are sometimes treated differently, she said.

Moreover, buying a site can be an option if the right institution is behind the financing.

Gregory and the other owners of Keystone Canna used New Jersey-based Parke Bank to finance the purchase of a second Keystone Canna dispensary, which opened earlier this year on Hamilton Boulevard in South Whitehall Township.

“Having that as an option really increases what we can do,” she said. “Without having that kind of financing, buying wasn’t an option.”

Keystone Canna plans to open a third location in Stroud Township. It is seeking a building permit for a leased property.

The Stroud Township building has one other tenant and with that property under lease, Keystone plans to open that site in the first quarter of next year.

“What’s critical is you have to make sure you have sufficient term on your lease so you can control your rent,” Gregory said. “At least 20 years is a good length.”

Whether they buy or own their own real estate, it’s hard for any cannabis entrepreneur to set up shop, she acknowledged.

“But you have to weather those early years,” she said. “There’s always the hope the federal government will change the law. As time goes on, I think you are going to see some significant changes.”


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Pa. Senate bill legalizing cannabis strives to be business friendly

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware

A new bill that would not only legalize recreational use of cannabis in Pennsylvania, but also ensure small business owners aren’t crowded out of the market by larger players, has been introduced in the state Senate.

Senators Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, co-sponsored Senate Bill 350 to end what they described as the state’s prohibition of cannabis. And it’s a bill that’s crafted to make sure small businesses can get a foot in the door in what is expected to be a very lucrative industry.

The sale of cannabis for medical purposes was legalized in 2016 and the first sales began in early 2018. This bill would allow recreational use of cannabis by anyone 21 or older. It would also expunge the criminal records of those arrested for cannabis-related crimes in the past.

Leach said the social justice component of the bill is important to him. The prohibition of cannabis “has resulted in about 25,000 Pennsylvanians, disproportionately people of color, being put into the criminal justice system per year,” he said. “It costs the state more than a half-billion dollars per year to arrest, prosecute, incarcerate and monitor people arrested for cannabis-related offenses.”

Protecting business

The measure could also create growing and selling opportunities for businesses and individuals, Leach said.

Under the bill, the state Department of Agriculture would oversee cannabis growers, including micro-growers and home-growers, processers, dispensaries, use lounges and deliverers. Leach said the bill was crafted to create business opportunities for businesses and individuals at different income levels and protect the industry from being monopolized by large corporations.

One way it helps small business is by keeping fees reasonable, he said. A dispensary permit would cost $5,000 up front and $5,000 to renew annually. The bill would also limit the number of permits a company could hold, a move that would prevent large businesses from gaining an “outsized market share” or monopolizing the market, Leach said.

A person may have a business interest in up to three dispensary permits, one grower permit, one micro-grower permit, one processor permit, and one home-grower permit.

But one small business that would be impacted by the bill isn’t thrilled with some of the components in the bill. Patricia Gregory, counsel and co-owner of Keystone Canna Remedies, which has dispensaries in Bethlehem and South Whitehall, said she feels with no limit on the number of total permits the state will issue, there will be too much competition.

“This is a hard industry to be in,” Gregory said. “You’re setting up a lot of small businesses for failure.”

Leach said he understands those concerns and agrees that not everyone who gets a permit will succeed in the industry.

“It is true that businesses will fail, but that’s true in any industry. We don’t have limits on pizza restaurants,” he said. “Our job is not to rig the market.”

He said there are clearly differences with cannabis because, like alcohol, it is an intoxicant and needs to be controlled in stricter ways than some industries. But in the end he wants the cannabis industry to be a ‘meritocracy’ where anyone with a good product will have a chance to succeed.

“It’s the free market,” he said. “Who succeeds will be up to the market and the customer.”

Medical cannabis dispensaries will have a leg up on the competition because they already have facilities and the know how to take the lead in the industry, Leach said.

Gregory also raised concerns over the bill’s lack of protocols and testing requirements, such as those the medical cannabis dispensaries must adhere to.

Leach pointed to California where sellers do their own testing because they want to ensure the quality of the product they are selling.

Local support

Leach said that the bill has gotten support from his constituents. More than 3,000 people signed on to be “citizen co-sponsors” of the bill on his website.

“We’ve worked with hundreds of advocates, experts and stakeholders over the last two years drafting legislation the people support,” Leach said. “We’re confident this legislation will create an efficient new industry that’s good for all Pennsylvanians.”

Currently, 11 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational pot use in some form, and Leach noted that, despite a federal ban on cannabis, the U.S. Department of Justice has largely allowed those states to operate without interference.

Medical marijuana research company breaks ground on Perry County facility

PA Options for Wellness broke ground on its newest facility in Perry County this week. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

One of the first of three medical marijuana research organizations approved by the state broke ground Wednesday on a 65,000-square-foot facility in Penn Township, Perry County where cannabis will be grown, processed, manufactured and researched.

Harrisburg-based PA Options for Wellness expects to spend well over $12 million on the facility as part of a 10-year agreement to provide medical marijuana research alongside Penn State College of Medicine.

The medical marijuana company and Penn State were approved in June to take part in the state’s medical marijuana research program by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Known as clinical registrants by the state, the authorized companies are able to grow, process, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana products as they research its effects at the facility.

“Our agreement is that we are looking for any concerns with the cannabis and we will report any positive or negative findings,” said Thomas Trite, CEO of PA Options. “We have been focused on education and research from the beginning, and it will be an ongoing process of building the educational resources as we learn more about the products and the diseases this product works well with.”

PA Options plans to have the facility finished within 10 months. When completed, the company will produce marijuana that is either used in clinical trials held at the facility or sold at one of six dispensaries the state has permitted the company to open.

Certain portions of the facility are expected to be completed in stages, allowing PA Options to begin growing and research before the entire operation is ready, Trite said.

The company plans to initially staff 15 to 20 people at the facility, which Trite said could grow to 80 employees in the future. The company’s dispensaries, which will sell products by PA Options as well as medical marijuana vetted by PA Options to be suitable for its patients, could have as many as 20 employees each.

PA Options and Penn State College of Medicine will look at all of the 21 medical conditions approved by the state for treatment with medical marijuana. Those conditions include opioid-use disorder, epilepsy, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Marijuana grown by PA Options will only be utilized by the company for its own research and sales, but a portion of the marijuana sales will be given to Penn State to pay for research.

Penn State will provide the company with resources, including databases to document the findings of PA Options researchers.

“Right now, (medical cannabis) is the Wild West, and you get whatever the dispensary has,” said Kent Vrana, chair of the department of pharmacology at Penn State College of Medicine. “We need to provide doctors with some evidence to predict what will be effective for our patients.”

In addition to PA Options, the state has also approved Agronomed Biologics LLC, affiliated with Drexel University of Medicine in Philadelphia, and MLH Explorations LLC, affiliated with Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.