Medical marijuana growers, labs file lawsuit against 2-lab rule

A new rule in Pennsylvania requiring cannabis growers to use different labs to test their products at the harvesting and final stages is on hold as the case is litigated in Commonwealth Court.

In early March, a group of cannabis growers and labs went to court to block the rule, saying its immediate implementation would have the result of voiding existing contracts and creating other problems.

The plaintiffs in the case are Green Analytics North LLC, doing business as Steep Hill PA; Hanging Gardens LLC; Pennsylvania Medical Solutions LLC; Curaleaf PA LLC; AES Compassionate Care LLC; Standard Farms LLC; and Parea BioSciences LLC.

Harrisburg attorney Judith Cassel, who is among those representing the plaintiffs, explained in an email that the state Department of Health developed temporary regulations for the medical marijuana program in 2017, permitting “each grower/processor to contract with a lab of their choice for testing at both of these stages.”

On March 4, the department released new, permanent regulations, mandating that one laboratory be used to test at the harvest stage and another at the final stage.

In their filing to block the two-lab rule, the plaintiffs argued that it throws a spanner into the existing system, effectively freezing the production and sale of medical cannabis, creating shortages and increased prices.

The permanent rules had been voted on and approved last October by the body that regulates the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania. One of the reasons given by the state to defend the two-lab rule is it would better protect the public from contaminants.

Asked for a response from the Health Department, a spokesman from its press office released the following statement: “The department does not comment on pending litigation.” Its website did note that the two-lab reg is not being enforced as court action plays out.

The requirement strips “50% of the business away from a lab that previously performed testing for a grower/processor at both stages,” Cassel said. “And grower/processors lose the continuity and cost savings they achieve with using a single lab for both testing stages.”

The extra costs incurred will at least partly be passed on to patients, she said.

“The other potential harm is that production on products could be halted or less safe, which will also lead to negative impacts on patients.”

Cassel, of the firm Hawke McKeon & Sniscak LP, said the Department of Health “admits that there is no problem in Pennsylvania for which this regulation is aimed. And DOH has not justified its implementation of this regulation. In addition to not providing any rationale for the promulgation of this regulation, DOH has not provided any guidance as to its use. In other words, what if these two laboratories get two different results, which is likely since the two laboratories use different processes, different equipment, and different personnel and are testing two completely different products? … DOH doesn’t bother explaining what will happen when the inevitable discrepancies occur.”

She asked: “Will there be a third test required and would all three laboratories get different results? Does the product get destroyed? If the product is getting stalled or destroyed, that will mean less product in the market, which translates to higher prices again.”

The plaintiffs are challenging the rule legally on three counts, Cassel explained: that it is beyond DOH’s enabling statute, the regulation is an abdication of DOH regulatory responsibility, and the regulation violates the Constitution’s (state and federal) contract clause.

Both parties have been ordered by Commonwealth Court to file applications for summary relief. If neither wins, she said, “then the issues will go to full litigation.”

Oral arguments before the full court (en banc) are scheduled for May 10.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

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.” 

Organic Remedies opens Philadelphia dispensary 

Carlisle-based Organic Remedies, a medical marijuana cultivation and research organization, is opening a dispensary in Paoli, its fifth in Pennsylvania. 

A ribbon-cutting was held Jan. 28 during an open house. 

The Paoli dispensary will provide a wide selection of therapeutic products – including Organic Remedies’ own brands – for patients suffering from qualifying health conditions. That selection includes elixirs, nano HT and nano-emulsion capsules, water-based products that may be easier for patients to digest, according to a release. 

The new location, with curbside and walk-in service available, is expected to officially open Feb. 7. Only patients with a valid Pennsylvania medical marijuana card may enter the dispensary. 

“We are proud to bring our unique brand of patient-focused health care to patients in the greater Philadelphia region,” Eric Hauser, president of Organic Remedies, said in the release. “Since 2018, we have been strongly focused on improving the health and wellness of Pennsylvania patients. With this newest dispensary, we are looking forward to helping even more patients realize the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana.” 

Organic Remedies’ other dispensaries are in York, Chambersburg, Enola and Pittsburgh. 

Chicago wholesaler buys three Pennsylvania medical marijuana dispensaries 

One of three Cure Pennsylvania dispensaries to be acquired by Cresco Labs this year. PHOTO PROVIDED.


Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based wholesalerof cannabis products and a multistate operator of medical marijuana dispensaries, has agreed to acquire three Cure Pennsylvania dispensaries for $90 million.

Cresco announced on Thursday that it has entered a definitive agreement to acquire the dispensaries owned by Bay, LLC, doing business in Pennsylvania under its Cure Pennsylvania brand. The purchase includes Cure Penn dispensaries in Lancaster, Phoenixville and Philadelphia and is expected to close this year.

The dispensaries join four other Cresco operated dispensaries in the state located in Butler, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Kensington.

“As we implement localization strategies tailored to state level dynamics, this transaction with Cure Penn is expected to expand our retail footprint in Pennsylvania, increase profitability and strengthen our wholesale leadership position in the state,” said Charlie Bachtell, CEO and co-founder of Cresco. “The Cure Penn team has developed a high-performing retail platform across three dispensaries that sets up another immediately accretive acquisition for Cresco Labs.”

Cresco is the largest wholesaler of branded cannabis products in the country and sells under a number of brands including Cresco, High Supply, Remedi and Wonder Wellness Co. It operates dispensaries through its Sunnyside brand of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Med-cannabis dispensary thrives in PA market amid growing patient size, limited product

An inside view of Fluent’s Hanover dispensary, the Miami-based medical marijuana organization’s highest revenue generator. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Miami-based medical marijuana dispensary Fluent operates 28 storefronts throughout Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Michigan, but its highest revenue generating store has been its only Pennsylvanian location in Hanover. 

Fluent opened its Hanover dispensary in 2018 and quickly found success selling medical marijuana to Pennsylvania’s registered patients, many of whom are willing to drive hours for the right product, said Robert Beasley, CEO of Fluent. 

“That store is amazing in its growth considering the size of the community it’s in,” he said. “Pennsylvania patients don’t mind driving. When you look at the population the store serves, it’s from an enormous geographic area.” 

Part of the store’s high patient numbers can be attributed to cultivation and production in Pennsylvania being unable to keep up with the state’s rapidly increasing number of patients, said Beasley. 

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana laws currently allow the state to register 35 grower/processors of medical marijuana including 10 clinical registrants, allowed to grow, process and sell medical marijuana in partnership with certified academic clinical research centers. 

Pennsylvania has yet to max out on its number of grower/processors, which currently stands in the high 20’s, said Luke Shultz, a member of the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board and a chronic pain patient registered through the program. 

The storefront of Fluent’s new Mechanicsburg dispensary. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Grower/processors can legally expand their operations as far as the property they are situated on allows, but Pennsylvania does not allow growers to purchase separate lots for expansion. 

“Of the first 12 or 13 initial permitted growers, almost all of them, if not all of them, have expanded their operations,” said Shultz. “Supply should be getting better in the next couple of months assuming we don’t have a drastic expansion in patients.”  

For now, that means that if a patient finds that a certain medical marijuana works best for them, they may have to shop at numerous stores or be willing to drive out of town.  

As a patient, Shultz, who lives in Reading, has seen that issue first hand. 

“I have had trouble getting certain products from time to time,” he said. “A few weeks ago, I couldn’t find something in the Reading area and had to travel to Lebanon.” 

After three years of operation in Hanover, Fluent opened its second Pennsylvania dispensary in Mechanicsburg last month. The larger store spans 3,000 square feet and could staff as many as 15 to 18 employees at peak times compared to Hanover’s 10. 

The biggest difference in the Mechanicsburg location is that Fluent paid attention to Pennsylvania’s inventory problems when building the facility and outfitted it with a much larger product vault, allowing the dispensary to buy products more periodically and hopefully tackle the state’s supply issues. 

“We really focused on this inventory issue,” said Beasley. “When a supplier is ready to push product but our vaults are full like in Hanover, we can’t take the product.” 

A larger vault is more expensive for a company, adding to the cost of construction, but allows the dispensary to buy more from a supplier and receive a higher ratio of higher-class products, said Beasley.  

“The supplier knows what they have. They know they have the flower everyone wants and they know what their hot products are,” he said. “Often, to move up in priority you will need to buy a higher ratio of products. They want you to buy a compliment of products.” 

Most of Pennsylvania’s grower/processors still have room to expand. As that room diminishes, it may be necessary for the state to look at increasing its number of authorized growers and processors, something that the state legislature is currently in charge of, said Shultz. 

The current limit of 25 grower/processors and 10 clinical registrants was agreed upon by the advisory board early in the program’s life, any future changes were left to the state legislature. 

“They should give serious consideration to either adding more permits outright or giving that responsibility back to the board or the Department of Health directly,” he said. 

Restore opens fifth Pa. medical marijuana dispensary in East Petersburg

Restore medical marijuana dispensary’s new East Petersburg facility opened this month. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Philadelphia medical marijuana dispensary Restore opened its fifth Pennsylvania dispensary in East Petersburg, Lancaster County this month.

The new 5471 Main Street dispensary is at the former East Petersburg location of LLM Motors and features an on-site parking lot, patient rewards program and everyday discounts for first-time patients and U.S. Veterans.

The location is Restore’s fifth location in the Commonwealth, including offices in Philadelphia, Elkins Park, Doylestown and Pottstown.

“We are thrilled to be joining the East Petersburg business community and look forward to continuing our mission of being a dependable, trustworthy and cost-competitive source of medical marijuana, a plant that has had such a positive impact on so many lives across Pennsylvania,” a company statement said.

Restore employs 25 people and plans to hire five more in the near future.

“We always have our eyes out for good candidates and hire on a rolling basis, as our company is constantly growing,” said a spokesperson for the company.

New recreational marijuana study shows gains for Pennsylvania economy

Legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania would support at least 32,000 full-time in-state jobs, $3.3 billion in sales per year and $520 million in annual tax revenues, according to a study released by Seattle-based Cannabis marketplace Leafly.

State Lt. Gov. John Fetterman met with Yoko Miyashita, CEO of Leafly, and Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML, to call for the legalization of recreational cannabis in Harrisburg on Tuesday after the new study was released.

Leafly is an online platform where cannabis consumers can learn more about the many strains of cannabis and be connected to a local dispensary to buy products.
The new study, created by Leafly analysts, estimates Pennsylvania’s potential cannabis market size and the impact the industry would have on the job market by comparing Pennsylvania with states that have already gone recreational.

After New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s signed New Jersey’s recreational marijuana law in February, legal cannabis stores are set to open in the state this year. The study estimates that Pennsylvania consumers could drive $200 million in annual sales to New Jersey if Pennsylvania doesn’t have its own competing industry based on comparable legal state sales.

“The reality is that there is a massive economic opportunity that Pennsylvania will miss if it does not legalize for recreational use,” said Miyashita. “Neighboring states are a half an hour drive away and you could lose millions in actual sales revenue.”

Pennsylvania currently has one of the country’s largest pools of medical cannabis patients and ranks among the country’s top 10 cannabis job-creating states, according to the survey.
Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program was signed into law in mid-2016 with the first medical marijuana dispensary opening in early 2018.

Fetterman has been a staunch supporter of Pennsylvania’s expanding its marijuana industry to include recreational cannabis.

“Legal weed is a powerful tool to create family-sustaining, full-time jobs while ending the prosecution of more than 20,000 Pennsylvanians every year,” said Fetterman. “This is a strong bipartisan issue, and it’s past time to end prohibition, right the wrongs of the War on Drugs and for Pennsylvania to reap the revenue, jobs, freedom and benefits for our farmers that more than a dozen other states already enjoy.”

Despite its support from Pennsylvania Democrats, as well as support from nearly 2 in 3 Pennsylvania voters, according to Harrisburg-based Harper Polling, recreational marijuana continues to face an uphill battle within the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

“Our plan with the original medical marijuana bill was to have our own clinical trial and it’s still premature,” said House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre County). “Our priority is getting the economy opened up, and getting people back to work and school.”

Adult use marijuana bill introduced in Pa. Senate

Two state senators have introduced a bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to legalize adult use marijuana in the Keystone State

Senators Sharif Street, D- Philadelphia, and Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, said the bill prioritizes safety, community investment, social and economic equity and agriculture, and creates a new tax revenue stream.

While the issue has been raised in the legislature before, the Wolf administration has lately been promoting the issue of legalizing adult use marijuana in the state.

Among its provisions, the bill:

  • Authorizes farmers and craft growers across the Commonwealth to engage in the cultivation of marijuana.•
  • Sets the minimum marijuana consumption age at 21 years old; mandates age verification for every purchase.
  •  Expunges non-violent marijuana convictions and decriminalizes marijuana up to a certain limit.
  •  Creates licenses for social and economic equity applicants and establishes that the majority of new licensees are granted to social and economic applicants.
  •  Leverages Pennsylvania’s existing medical marijuana licensees to fulfill demand on an enhanced timetable while providing social and economic equity licensees the capital and know-how to succeed.
  •  Implements a Business Development Fund, administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, to support loans, grants, and studies.
  •  Allows limited Home Grow for Patients

In a press release, the senators noted that the legal cannabis industry employs approximately 250,000 Americans and supports over 300,000 indirect jobs and full-time workers. The cannabis industry has experienced a 100% growth rate over the last four years and projects, with proper reform, a million more jobs can be created by 2025.

According to testimony provided by the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office, adult-use marijuana legalization can generate between $400 million to $1 billion of new tax revenue for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

They noted that New Jersey passed marijuana legalization this week and New York is expected to legalize marijuana in their upcoming budget session. They are concerned that Pennsylvania is at risk of losing thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue to neighboring states.

Pa. medical marijuana sales up 40% since August

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry has brought in more than $1.7 billion since the state’s  program began in early 2018. Since August, sales increased, 40%.

Most of the revenue — $1 billion – was in direct sales patients and their caregivers, said John Collins, director of the state’s medical marijuana program, during the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board’s quarterly meeting on Tuesday.

In the program’s almost three years of operation, Pennsylvania has registered more than 460,000 for eligibility to purchase marijuana from a dispensary for either themselves or someone they care for.

Currently there are 23 qualifying conditions approved for treatment with marijuana. Of those, 80% of patients use the plant-based medicine to treat pain, anxiety and PTSD, according to Collins. During Tuesday’s meeting, the board discussed adding two more to the list —  insomnia, and traumatic brain injury – but neither was approved.

Insomnia was rejected 7-4.

Board member Dr. Bill Trescher, division chief of pediatric neurology at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said treating insomnia with marijuana could have negative effect on the developing brains of young patients.

“With some of these newer conditions, particularly Tourette’s Syndrome and insomnia, these conditions do not have severe deterioration on brain function but the medical marijuana could,” he said.

But others supported the addition of insomnia, citing patients with other qualifying conditions who said cannabis helped them sleep better.

“I certify a lot of people with cancer and many of them have insomnia as one of their main complaints,” said Dr. Lanie Francis, a Hematologist and Medical Oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “Many say that its life changing to be able to sleep. I would say that insomnia is one of the most effective ways that I use medical marijuana on my patients.”

The board unanimously tabled an application to add traumatic brain injury to the list.

Trescher opposed brain injury on the same grounds as insomnina, citing the drug’s effect on the pediatric population as well as the lack of clarity behind the term traumatic brain injury.

The application will be reconsidered during the next meeting in February.

Applications for conditions can be requested for reconsideration by the chairperson of the advisory board. If approved for reconsideration, the requester is able to present their case directly to the board.


Harvest opens new dispensary in Camp Hill

Harvest Health & Recreation recently opened its seventh Pennsylvania dispensary in Camp Hill. PHOTO PROVIDED

Harvest Health & Recreation, a Phoenix-based medical marijuana company, opened its seventh dispensary in Pennsylvania this week.

Harvest’s new Camp Hill dispensary, located at 3401 Hartzdale Dr., is one of 15 medical dispensaries the company is authorized to open through five different permits that it currently holds through the state Department of Health.

The new location comes almost a year after Harvest opened its Harrisburg facility at 2500 N. 6th St.

Harvest operates dispensaries in Reading, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Scranton and Cranberry Township, Butler County. The company has dispensaries in six different states.

“We are thrilled to open our seventh location in Pennsylvania, one of the fastest-growing medical markets in the U.S.” said Steve White, CEO of Harvest. “We look forward to serving patients and providing quality products at this new location in one of our core markets.”

Harvest still has eight dispensaries that it can open in the state but doesn’t expect to open any more facilities until next year, according to a Harvest spokesperson.

The Camp Hill dispensary is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Opening new dispensaries has been particularly difficult during the pandemic, according to Christine Hersey, a spokesperson for Harvest.

“There are always challenges with opening new locations such as permitting or regulatory approvals or staffing and some of those tasks were made more difficult due to the pandemic but our team has done a great job working through those issues to bring this location and others online,” Hersey said.