Medical Marijuana Could Be Good Business In Pennsylvania

Photo Credit: Anne Danahy

Bradford is a historic town on the northern Pennsylvania border. An empty storefront will soon be one of the state’s medical marijuana clinics.

“It’s right in the heart of our downtown on Main Street,” said Tom Riel, mayor of Bradford. He was standing in front of the future clinic, surrounded by shops and apartments in an old-fashioned downtown.  To Riel, the clinic will be the same as a new pharmacy opening up.

“The state’s declared it to be a legal enterprise. And, if it’s going to go somewhere in the area, and draw people from out of the region into our area, we welcome it in our downtown and the economic impact it would have by drawing people to our downtown who might normally not come to downtown Bradford,” Riel said.

And more might with the new Wellness Center that’s slated to sell medical marijuana there.

Chelsea Schwab is manager of Bradford’s Main Street Program.

“They’re going to be creating jobs, driving some more traffic downtown,” Schwab said. “So I view it as a positive, just as I would with any other business coming in.”

In 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The goal is to help people with conditions like cancer, seizures and intractable pain.

Economic development is also a priority in some communities that are getting dispensaries or growers.

Brad Lashinsky is director of economic development and planning in Jefferson County. Brookville, he noted, is the only town getting both a grower-processor and a dispenser.

“Not only are we going to gain jobs from it, but we’re going to have that trickle-down impact with people coming into the area,” Lashinsky said.

The grower is Cresco Yeltrah. Lashinksy said Cresco was inundated with job seekers.

Cresco Yeltrah co-founder Charlie Bachtell expects the operation to have 30 to 35 employees as business ramps up and a hundred or more when it’s fully operational.

They expect to have medical marijuana ready to sell in February. And eventually a range of choices.

“Absolutely we’ll have a nice broad spectrum of cannabinoid profiles — some that are THC-focused and others that barely have any THC in them at all.”

THC is the compound in cannabis that can get users high.

The company also got a separate license to run dispensaries in the southwest region of the state. Bachtell said they put an emphasis on public outreach.

“And making sure they can see as much as possible behind the curtain as to how these companies run, how these programs run, so they can understand it’s not what they expect,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, the grower-processors will pay a 5 percent tax to the state on gross receipts. According to the state Department of Revenue, that is expected to bring in slightly more than $12 million starting this year.

The state has already approved the first dispensary.

In Bradford, the dispensary is going in a spot where a restaurant had been. Mayor Riel notes the alley in back is next to the police station.

“I think some people envisioned that there’d be VW buses pulling up, and people with dreadlocks and tie-dyes getting out and going into buy a bag of marijuana,” he said. “And that’s not the case at all here.”

The Bradford location will be run by Wellness Centers of Pennsylvania. Project manager Will Agganis said the company got the OK to open six facilities. That includes one set of dispensaries in Bradford, DuBois and Brookville, and another in Lebanon, Altoona and Gettysburg.

“People are worried that it’s going to bring crime and you’re going to get a lot of undesirable outcomes. And then the dispensaries open, and none of that really typically happens,” he said. “These dispensaries are very safe.”

Agganis has worked in the industry, overseeing the set-up of operations. He said he understands why people may be skeptical. But, he’s seen the results.

“We get a lot of people who come in and say, ‘I’m on chemotherapy and I just want to be able to eat again.’ That’s a profound thing to see people come in and say, ‘Nothing else works for me. I just want to be able to eat again.’ These are people who are wasting away, and this really helps them,” he said.

In State College, a Nature’s Medicines dispensary is slated to open on North Atherton Street in what had been a restaurant.

Partner Mark Steinmetz said medical marijuana can be effective.

“It doesn’t take a lot,” he said. “You don’t have to get high to find relief from pain using cannabis.”

In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana can be sold in forms like liquids and creams — not as joints or bags of pot. And it can only be sold to people with one of 17 conditions a doctor has certified.

Daniel Shortt is an attorney in Washington state with expertise in marijuana law. In 2017, the state saw $1.24 billion dollars in sales. That meant $281 million dollars in tax revenue.

“It’s been a significant impact on our state’s budget,” Shortt said. “It can be quite the tax boon to each state that legalizes either recreational or medical marijuana.”

And, he said, it can mean jobs.

“You’ve got to look beyond just the individuals who are working in the industry,” he said. “There’s also security companies, there’s branding companies, marketing companies, accountants, lawyers — a whole host of individuals who either work in the industry or provide services to the industry.”

That potential for jobs and tax revenues is one reason Pennsylvania’s Auditor General has recommended legalizing and taxing all marijuana — not just medical. Eugene DePasquale says Pennsylvania could get an estimated $200 million dollars a year by regulating and taxing marijuana sales.