PurePenn’s recent approval by the state to grow and process medical marijuana in McKeesport is creating a definite buzz.
Just go to PurePenn’s Facebook page. On June 20, just hours after the state Department of Health announced that it had awarded the company one of just 12 licenses granted throughout Pennsylvania — and one of only two granted to companies to be located in the Southwest region — area residents were asking “how do I apply for a job?”
That was, in fact, one of the reasons that native Pittsburgher Gabe Perlow sought to get into the medical cannabis business.
“This is about job creation and economic development,” Perlow told The Chronicle earlier this year, shortly after the PurePenn CEO filed the company’s application for the license.
PurePenn will establish its plant at 321 Locust St. in the Regional Industrial Development Corp.’s Riverplace Industrial Center. Zoning approval has already been granted to PurePenn to build the facility, which is expected to exceed 21,000 square feet.
Marijuana plants will be grown at that facility, then manufactured into an approved form for consumption to treat a host of “serious” medical conditions as defined by the state, including autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and glaucoma.
The medical marijuana will be processed into several forms, including drops and capsules. Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act, which was approved in April 2016, prohibits forms of marijuana that are smoked or eaten.
Pennsylvania was the 24th state to approve marijuana for medical use. There are now 29 states — plus the District of Columbia — where cannabis has been approved for medical purposes.
“We’ve only touched the surface of what the plant can do,” Perlow said.
PurePenn is committed to meeting the state’s deadline to have a fully functioning facility up and running by January 2018, according to a news release issued by the company, and will be holding job fairs, along with a community event “to open lines of communication about its mission to bring a proven track record of expertise in medicinal cannabis production to Pennsylvania.”
“We’re thrilled that the state Department of Health officials have selected PurePenn to bring the nascent but much-needed industry of medicinal cannabis cultivation and processing to southwestern Pennsylvania, and we thank them, Gov. [Tom] Wolf and his team for their leadership throughout this process,” said Perlow.
“Our aim is to improve patients’ quality of life, comfort, and well-being — that principle guides us in every step we take,” he added.
“Along with that, we are eager to help revitalize our chosen host city of McKeesport by providing new opportunity for a hard-working, skilled-labor force in the historic steel community.”
In addition to temporary construction jobs, PurePenn anticipates its initial workforce of 10 people to increase with market growth to more than 75 employees.
“Today is a great day for the residents and businesses of McKeesport,” said McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko in a prepared statement. “Now, it’s time to get to work and connect residents with job opportunities, as we keep working hard to attract more businesses.”
The PurePenn group is partnering with Los Angeles-based Moxie, which processes and distributes pharmaceutical-grade cannabis-oil products. The partnership gives PurePenn access to more than 100 cannabis plant strains and genetics.
“PurePenn’s venture into the medical marijuana industry is exciting for the City of McKeesport,” Cherepko said. “This up-and-coming industry will have a positive impact on medical care in the state of Pennsylvania and on our local economy here in McKeesport.
“Even before they gained state approval, PurePenn’s investors made themselves a part of the McKeesport community,” Cherepko continued. “They want the public to be knowledgeable of their works, as this emerging has the potential to boost our local and regional economy.”
Despite the legalization of medical marijuana in most states, it is still prohibited under federal law. While the federal government so far has not interfered with states that have legalized cannabis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in an April memorandum, asked for a Justice Department task force to review marijuana policies and requested recommendations “no later than July 27.”
A local attorney who specializes in marijuana law, Catia Kossovsky does not believe the longstanding federal policy of not interfering with states will change under the Trump administration, despite comments made by Sessions.
“It would be a difficult battle for the Trump administration to try to revert and move this train back to the station,” said Kossovsky, who is a board member of The Chronicle. “It would be difficult to cite every one of these states. And Gov. Wolf has said he would fight the attorney general and have the Pennsylvania attorney general fight for the state’s rights.”
When Kossovsky counsels clients in the industry, she explains that medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania, but possible federal consequences could include “losing everything,” “going to jail” and “being taxed a lot.”
“I tell them to make sure to comply with everything they can,” she said. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.