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Western Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry gains momentum

Jacob Tierney
IMG1318
Ben Schmitt
Cannabis consultant Sara Gullickson shows off her necklace with a marijuana leaf pendant at Solevo Wellness medical marijuana dispensary in Squirrel Hill.
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WPXI
This early design for a medical marijuana dispensary in Greensburg has been scrapped because of budgetary concerns and developer Keystone Integrated Care is working on a new, more modest version. The project has been delayed as a result.
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The Healing Center
Medical marijuana
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Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
The Healing Center, a medical marijuana dispensary, on Mall Circle Drive, is expected to be up and running in early April.

Western Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry is starting to bloom, though it will be a while before Westmoreland County gets in on the action.

The county has one state-approved medical marijuana facility — the Keystone Integrated Care dispensary at 303 E. Pittsburgh St. in Greensburg — which has been delayed until this summer.

Keystone Integrated Care officials said their plans for a 4,000-square-foot building were more than they could afford.

The company is working on a more affordable design of about 3,000 square feet, which is similar to what it proposed in its initial application to the state before expanding its ambitions.

“We’re going back to the original footprint that was approved by the Department of Health and the commonwealth, and bringing it back into budget,” said founder and Chief Operating Officer Thomas Perko.

The city of Greensburg approved the initial, larger design in September, and the Westmoreland County Land Bank donated the property for the dispensary to Keystone.

Perko said he hopes the city will approve the redesign in March, and the dispensary will be open for business by June.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law April 2016, the industry has been ramping up quickly.

Patients must apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card before they can purchase marijuana products. To qualify for a card, a doctor registered with the program must certify the patient has one of 17 qualifying medical conditions, such as epilepsy, cancer or multiple sclerosis, and pass a background check.

The state health department is regulating marijuana, which may not be smoked in dry leaf form. The dispensaries will sell pills, oils, tinctures and ointments. They are also permitted to sell equipment such as vaping devices to administer medical marijuana.

Dr. Matthew Sulecki was one of the first Westmoreland County doctors authorized by the state to certify patients for the medical marijuana program, but he believes he will soon be one of many.

“My patients were very interested in seeing if it would provide some relief in their symptoms. I was interested in being able to provide that,” he said.

He practices medical oncology at the Arnold Palmer Cancer Center in Unity.

Since appearing on the state’s list of participating physicians, he’s received dozens of calls from people hoping he can get them into the program, but he’s referred most to other doctors. He’s interested in helping only the types of patients he’s already treating as an oncologist.

He said medical marijuana could provide an alternative form of pain relief to opiates.

“In the middle of an opioid crisis, it’s good to have other options,” he said.

In other parts of the region, the industry is growing apace.

PurePenn, a medical marijuana grower and processor in McKeesport, started growing operations in January.

“Pennsylvania is far ahead of the curve compared to every state that’s implemented a similar program,” said PurePenn CEO Gabe Perlow.

The company has 15 full-time employees, mostly from the McKeesport area, and plans to have about 25 by the end of the year.

“We came into this community promising to create jobs,” Perlow said.

Industry news site Marijuana Business Daily estimates the state’s dispensaries could top $100 million annually within a few years.

In June, the state awarded 27 permits to dispense medical marijuana.

The first dispensary in the Pittsburgh area, known as CY+, opened Feb. 1 in Butler.

Solevo Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary in Squirrel Hill, was scheduled to open Feb. 15.

The owner of the Healing Center plans to build at 130 Mall Circle Drive in Monroeville and expects to be dispensing medical marijuana by April. Co-owner Chris Kohan said the company’s proposed dispensary in Washington County also is slated to open in April.

The company’s Cranberry dispensary is not expected to open until late summer.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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