The company behind Westmoreland County's only planned medical marijuana dispensary assembled a team of marijuana industry experts from across the country when it applied for a state license, but it's uncertain how many of them will stick around as operations begin.

The company received approval from Greensburg City Council Monday to begin work on its flagship dispensary at 303 E. Pittsburgh St.

Though Keystone Integrated Care's application to the state Department of Health lists more than a dozen operators and board members — many are in key positions such as general manager and chief compliance officer — all are serving in advisory or consulting roles, according to company founder and Chief Operating Officer Thomas Perko.

The company is in the midst of restructuring its staff and board, said Perko, 33, of Gibsonia. Some of those listed on the application likely will stay on, while others will be replaced, he said.

“KIC is working on moving forward with the hiring process to solidify some roles moving forward, but some of them will also be stepping out,” he said.

In the meantime, Perko is working primarily with three people to get the company's planned dispensaries — in Greensburg, Lawrenceville and Cranberry Township — up and running: Brooke Gehring, William “Tripp” Murray and Molly Blasier.

National experience

Perko has been on the ground floor of Pennsylvania's burgeoning marijuana industry for a few years. He serves as the president of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society , an industry advocacy group.

He owns Miller's Quality Meats in Butler and worked for several years as an operations manager at Stevens Engineers and Constructors, where he oversaw projects for NASA, the Department of Defense and other government agencies, he said.

“This has been the most exciting thing I've ever done,” he said.

Brooke Gehring, Keystone's interim CEO, is involved in nearly every level of the cannabis industry in Colorado, where the sale and use of marijuana is legal. Her company, FGS Inc., grows both medicinal and recreational strains of cannabis and sells them from multiple dispensaries. In 2014 People magazine profiled her as a “ marijuana millionairess. ”

She could not be reached for comment.

Blasier, principal of Blasier Urban LLC, is a Pittsburgh property developer. She's been involved in several large apartment and shopping complexes, including the Eastside developments that brought Whole Foods to East Liberty.

She is handling the planning and construction of the dispensary and has been the primary point of contact between KIC and the city of Greensburg.

Murray has been in the cannabis industry for about four years, consulting with companies and helping them raise startup money.

“In the cannabis space, every year that you survive is equivalent to about seven years in any other industry,” he said.

Selling medical marijuana is tricky, so it makes sense to bring in a team of people who have been there and done that when launching a new business, Murray said.

“You can expedite the learning curve significantly by bringing in people who have already made mistakes and learned from those. It's not an overly complicated business, but it does take significant attention to detail,” he said.

Keystone's application names Murray the company's chief financial officer, but he said he's not sure what roll he'll play, if any, once operations start.

“We haven't gotten that far yet. We're still blocking and tackling to get through all the steps we have to get through at this time,” he said.

A shift in focus is one reason Keystone is restructuring, Perko said. The company submitted two applications to the state: one to grow and process medical marijuana products, the other to sell them out of three dispensaries.

The state approved the application for the dispensaries, not the growing facilities, so the company is turning its full attention to sales, Perko said.

Local reaction

Business operators near the Greensburg dispensary said they have concerns about the project.

Inge Hickman works at The Dancer's Closet on East Pittsburgh Street, which is owned by her mom, Gloria Compton. She's worried about what the large dispensary will mean for parking and traffic at the busy intersection. She thinks the facility should have been built somewhere more rural, out of town.

“We're a large, rural county. We have a lot of empty space and land,” Hickman said. “I just hope it won't be a problem.”

The city used to allow the Christian Layman Thrift Store to park its trucks in the empty lot where the dispensary will be built. Now the store rents space farther up the street.

Still, CEO Curtis Hoffman said he's not opposed to the dispensary. He said he doesn't know much about medical cannabis, but he wants help to be available to people who need it.

“I hear it's not like smoking the leaf. I'm all for helping someone with cancer, as Christians we're all about being compassionate,” he said.

However, he's worried that medical cannabis could lead to full-fledged marijuana legalization in the future.

“It does, I think, open the door up for legalizing marijuana like they did in Colorado,” he said.

City officials have championed the dispensary as a major development bringing a new industry to Greensburg.

“It's going to create economic vitality in that corridor, and I think it's going to help people in the community,” city administrator Sue Trout said.

Construction on the Greensburg dispensary is expected to begin soon.



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