Hempfield restaurant owner gets his ‘ducks in a row’ to grow medical marijuana |

Hempfield restaurant owner gets his ‘ducks in a row’ to grow medical marijuana

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Rodney Yemc hopes to open a medical marijuana growing operation in this warehouse in Hempfield.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A former warehouse in Hempfield Township in which Rodney Yemc hopes to open a medical marijuana growing operation.

Rodney Yemc’s passion for medical marijuana is palpable.

The Hempfield restaurant owner said he wakes up every morning thinking about how he’ll advance his plans to grow medical marijuana and, he hopes, dispense it to the public.

Yemc is hoping to get in on the ground floor of the industry that was legalized last month when Gov. Tom Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act into law.

Department of Health officials are in the early stages of developing the regulations to implement the law. Over the next few months, officials will be evaluating how to allocate licenses based on need and population.

The department can initially issue 25 grower licenses, 50 to dispense the drug and five to do both.

“We know that’s a very competitive situation,” Yemc said.

The law allows patients — with their doctor’s approval — to purchase marijuana to treat 17 conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and seizures that can’t be controlled by treatment.

Patients can buy the drug in the form of a pill, oil, gel, cream or liquid that can be vaporized and inhaled. They will not be able to smoke it.

Yemc doesn’t expect to apply for a license until about February, but he said he’s working hard to prepare for the rigorous licensing process.

“Our ducks are in a row. We’re not scrambling,” he said.

He started researching the marijuana growing process two years ago, long before medical marijuana was legalized here.

He made several trips to Colorado, where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational use, to learn about every aspect of the business.

He’s hired a team of lawyers and lobbyists and collected start-up cash from a group of investors, whom he declined to name, because it costs $10,000 just to apply for a license and another $200,000 if he’s granted one, according to the Health Department.

Yemc leased a 25,000-square-foot warehouse space on Arona Road in Hempfield, a few miles from his eatery, Rodney’s Restaurant, where he initially hopes to grow 3,000 plants. The building has enough space that he could expand into an adjacent room and grow another 6,000 to 8,000 plants, he said.

Yemc, 50, said he’ll be the president of PA Cultivation Group, the company he formed to run the operation.

“I’ll probably be president of watering and taking care of the plants, too,” he joked. “We know this is hard work and long hours.”

Other prospective growers are making similar preparations in anticipation of applying for a license.

Thomas Perko, 32, of Richland, managing partner of Keystone Organic Farms, said he’s spent a significant amount of time looking at what makes growers successful in other states.

He said his focus was on finding the right location — a former underground limestone mine in Wampum, Lawrence County — that he believes will make for a secure, energy-efficient growing location.

He said the numerous lamps required for large-scale growing throw off “a tremendous amount of heat.”

Yemc said he’s budgeting about $15,000 per month for electricity when his operation is up and running.

Perko said he hopes to get both a growing and dispensary license. While he’s waiting for the application period to open, he said, his team is looking to build research partnerships with universities to study the plants and extractions as they’re made.

Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].

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