Pennsylvania’s 1st Medical Marijuana Spot OK’d To Open Is In Bethlehem

Photo Credit: Andy Colwell

A Bethlehem medical marijuana dispensary is Pennsylvania’s first to earn final approval to begin serving patients, as soon as the inaugural crop is available from growers.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday that Keystone Canna Remedies will be able to sell medical marijuana to Pennsylvanians with medical marijuana identification cards once grower/processors begin distribution, sometime in the next four months.

The announcement comes the same day The Associated Press reports U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country.

President Donald Trump’s attorney general will instead let federal prosecutors where pot is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the AP reports, citing two people with knowledge of the decision.

Steve Schain, senior attorney with the Hoban Law Group and a specialist in cannabis law, told Sessions’ move is largely symbolic — especially when it comes to medical marijuana.

“Even under a worst-case scenario, the entirety of Jeff Sessions’ efforts are aimed at adult-use marijuana,” said Schain, whose clients include Keystone Canna Remedies. “Beyond being totally safe, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has body armor provided by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature.”

According to the AP:

Sessions’ move likely will add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where pot is legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it. It comes days after pot shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world’s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.

While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to pot policy reflect his own concerns. Trump’s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Pot advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.

The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.

The people with whom the AP spoke on Sessions’ decision are familiar with the plan but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday.

Sessions’ policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts, the people familiar with the decision said.

If the Cole Memorandum, as it is known, is rescinded, nothing will change, according to Schain.

“The $7. 2 billion legalized marijuana industry spanning 30 states, generating millions in taxes and providing 10 of thousands of jobs will continue and the federal government will lack both the congressional mandate and funding to use federal resources to derail state programs,” Schain said in a statement. “If the Cole Memorandum is rescinded, Congress may be forced to strengthen the spending restrictions governing the Justice Department surrounding cannabis when its enacts its new budget.

“While not necessarily changing the status quo necessarily, it may increase the ambiguity as to what comprises full compliance with state laws.”

New Jersey officials are closely watching the federal approach to marijuana enforcement, as well. A bill to legalize pot has been sitting in the state Legislature since May and incoming Gov. Phil Murphy supports legalization, reports. New Jersey lawmakers are expected to hold the marijuana legalization debate in the coming months.

A wave of legalization that began in Colorado in 2004 has now spread to the entire West Coast, following California’s start of recreational marijuana to adults on New Year’s Day. Massachusetts and Maine could open the nation’s first recreational marijuana stores east of the Mississippi River later this year.

In Pennsylvania, Keystone Canna Remedies plans to open its dispensary the third week of January at 1309 Stefko Blvd. in Bethlehem. Its parent company, GuadCo LLC, had considered opening its primary dispensary at 2467 Baglyos Circle in Bethlehem Township. But because its dispensary application listed its address as 1309 Stefko Blvd., the state required the dispensary to be located there, co-founder Victor Guadagnino Jr. said.

Following the grand opening, the exact date of which was not set as of Thursday, the dispensary will be open for educational classes and patient assistance. Guadagnino said he hopes to begin patient consultations and dispensing cannabis products in February.

A 2016 state law legalized medical marijuana products, but not plant material itself, for people suffering from one of 17 qualifying conditions, including AIDS, autism, cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease.

“This is tremendous news for patients and the people who care for them,” Wolf said in a statement on Keystone’s approval to open. “We are one step closer to providing medical marijuana to patients with serious medical conditions who desperately need this medication.

“Once the growing process is completed and the dispensary receives medication, patients with medical marijuana identification cards will be able to purchase medication at Keystone Canna Remedies.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has approved these nine grower/processors to begin operations:

•Cresco Yeltrah, Jefferson County.

•Franklin Labs, Berks County.

•GTI Pennsylvania, Montour County.

•Ilera Healthcare, Fulton County.

•Pennsylvania Medical Solutions, Lackawanna County.

•Prime Wellness, LLC, Berks County.

•PurePenn LLC, Allegheny County.

•Standard Farms, Luzerne County.

•Terrapin Investment Fund 1, Clinton County.

To begin accepting seeds and clones to grow medical marijuana, grower/processors needed several inspections from the Department of Heath, in addition to integrating their facilities with the state’s approved seed-to-sale tracking system.

“Our team is working to make sure that all of the remaining grower/processors are ready to operate safely and according to the law,” Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement Thursday. “We anticipate more dispensaries to be able to open their doors in the coming weeks.

“Our medical marijuana program will be ready for full operation within the 18 to 24-month time-frame Governor Wolf set out when he signed the legislation into law.”

Physicians also continue to register to participate in the program, according to Thursday’s announcement by Wolf. To date, 573 have registered and of those, nearly 250 have completed the training to become certified practitioners.

“Physicians play a critical role in this medically focused program,” the governor stated. “The response has been encouraging from the medical community as more doctors are becoming educated on how medical marijuana can help their patients.”