A group of Maryland-based medical marijuana growers who hope to cultivate cannabis in Bedford County could soon turn that pipe dream into a reality.
That is after a Thursday announcement from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s office that a second round of permitting for local growers, processors, dispensaries and research centers is underway.
The second phase will allow 13 new grower/processor permits and up to 23 new dispensary permits, according to the announcement.
Among those hopeful for a permit are executives at Green Leaf Medical LLC, a Maryland company that has been legally growing marijuana there for about eight months.
“We’re really excited that phase two is underway,” said Philip Goldberg, Green Leaf’s CEO.
Green Leaf owns the former Seton Leather plant in Saxton, and, last year, company officials applied to receive a state growers license for the facility.
The proposal was met with excitement from community leaders, who expressed an interest in seeing the former leather plant, which once employed 1,000 people, return to productivity.
However, Green Leaf’s proposed Saxton operation failed to receive one of the two permits issued in south-central Pennsylvania during the first round.
During the second round, two additional grow permits are to be issued in each of the state’s six regions. Each application is scored, and permits will be given to the highest scorers in each region, said April Hutcheson, the state Department of Health’s communication director.
In addition, a 13th grow permit will be issued to the highest scoring applicant overall.
During the first round, Green Leaf’s application secured about 719 points — just below the south-central winners at 744 and 722, according to a Mirror report from that time.
“We just barely missed it the first time around,” Goldberg said.
Since then, the company has been productive at a Maryland facility, growing large quantities of marijuana over the last eight months, Goldberg said.
With that added experience, Green Leaf leaders are working to prepare a new Pennsylvania grower application, hoping to improve last year’s score.
If all goes according to plan, the former leather plant will be converted into a growing facility capable of employing about 125 local workers, Goldberg said.
“It would probably make us the largest grower in the state,” he said, calling the Saxton facility massive.
An operation on that scale could eventually lead to additional employment opportunities and likely would produce an affordable product, he said.
“As you produce more, your cost per pound goes down,” he said.
In the second round of permitting, applications are due in mid-May. Goldberg said Green Leaf officials plan to take advantage of the coming weeks to craft the best possible application.
“The local community has been so good to us and very easy to work with. We just are praying we are going to be able to return that good will right back to the community,” Goldberg said. “It would be so exciting for us to get a license there.”
In Pennsylvania, patients must suffer from at least one of 17 “serious medical conditions” before being issued a medical marijuana identification card.
A card is necessary to receive medical marijuana products from approved Pennsylvania dispensaries.
Currently, marijuana cannot be purchased in its leafy, smokeable form. It must be purchased as a pill, oil, ointment, tincture or liquid.
A form “medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization” also is available, according the state Health Department.
Those legal products contain tetrahydrocannabinol — THC — which is psychoactive, Hutcheson said.
“Yes, there is THC in the product that is being sold in dispensaries,” she said, explaining that doctors often will prescribe low doses initially.
Soon, medical marijuana could be available in its whole form as a state advisory panel is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to recommend the sale of leaves and flowers, according to a Friday report from PennLive.com.
During the first round of permit distribution, an Altoona dispensary was approved, but it has not opened. Lebanon Wellness Center LLC has a dispensary planned for 514 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd.
Legal distribution of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania began in mid-February.
Hutcheson said each dispensary must pass two inspections before opening.
In February, Anthony Bartkowiak, an internal medicine doctor who is approved to issue medical marijuana cards, said the Altoona site was scheduled for an inspection and likely would open soon after.
On Friday, Bartkowiak spoke through a secretary, saying he had no update on a scheduled opening.