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Cannabis in the Keystone State

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The state of cannabis in the Keystone State is in flux.  Cannabis remains illegal and punishable with jail time for even minor offenses.  Some cities have decriminalized it, Philly, Pittsburgh, State College, Harrisburg to name a few.  Medical marijuana is legal, but unavailable as of yet.  Over a year after Act 16 legalizing MMJ was passed, there is still no way to access the medicine.  It remains an illusive promise dangling on the end of a very long stick.

On June 20, 2017 the PA Department of Health announced 12  permits for marijuana grower/processors statewide.  The PA D.O.H. divided the 46,055 sq mile, 67 county, state into 6 massive regions and awarded two permits in each region.  Berks county got two.  Several of the business are owned by out of state entities.

I’m a little peeved up here in the Great Lakes region of PA.  Erie county is two hours away from the closest grower.  We are the fourth largest city in the state.

I often feel we are left out of important state matters up here in the far right corner of the state.  I thought we were an excellent town for a growhouse.  On the day after the presidential election day when my children and I stayed home sick and mourned the results, I attended a community meeting about MMJ in Erie county.

Local businessman Sam Black III, heir to Erie Insurance, laid out his specific plans to turn his empty building and lot into a growhouse.  He was just the man we needed.  An Erie native, he believes in the value of our rust-belt, fished-out, lake community.  Erie Insurance is one of the largest and best paying employers in Erie.  He wanted to bring MMJ to our shores ASAP.  

He looked me in the eye and told me “Let me be clear, I have a family member who’s intractable nerve pain is only treatable with cannabis.”  His intentions were believable and he had the necessary capital needed.

PA isn’t going to let just anyone grow pot.  You have to have $500,000 in the bank to start.  It’s $10K,  non-refundable to apply.  $200,000 for the permit and you must have $2 million assets available.  It’s a lot.

Sam Black has a lot.  He remains committed to our community.  He wants to get MMJ to his loved one.  He had already contracted with companies in Colorado and the local osteopathic college, LECOM.  It was the only thing that made me feel better in the days that followed the Trumpening.

I was convinced.  His new company, Calypso was going to be great for Erie.  Not a single person spoke out against the plan.  Multiple people asked about jobs.  Mr Black promised 40 jobs to start.  The meeting was held in a hollowed out former office building for the closed International Paper Mill.  The loss of the plant was a blow to the neighborhood.  The smell cleared up but the jobs went away.  The lot has been sitting empty since the mill closed in 2001.

Mr. Black had the building stripped and was ready to be outfitted with the latest grow lights and processing materials.  I could envision the green plants growing already, gently waving in the well circulated air.  Our precious lake, a great source of fresh water, is only yards away.  It was a winning plan.

But we got stiffed.  Calypso scored 575.78 out of 1000 on their very important rubric.  I don’t know how they determined that score.  But I do know that 12 permits for a state of 12.8 million people isn’t enough.

My advocate friends reassure me that it doesn’t matter where the cannabis is grown in the state.  The dispensaries are the important part for patients like me, who are impatient at our twenty+ year wait for safe medicine. I was first diagnosed with epilepsy 20 years ago. I’ve wanted MMJ since then and have been advocating and protesting for it.  Now the end is in sight, I hope.  I presume that the 12 lucky winners are already working around the clock to get seeds in the dirt or growing medium of choice.  They must be ready in 6 months.  Merry Christmas PA!  

I was sure that the largest city in this region dominated by The Allegheny National Forest would get a grower permit.  The entire process has been so protracted and onerous.  My hope grows dim.  I still don’t have my card.  I could have had one when I lived in California in 2003.  14 years later and I am still high and dry in my home state.

They dispensaries were announced yesterday.  Although Erie county thankfully received ONE, it’s not in Erie.  It’s on the far west side of the county, in an affluent suburb of the city.  Fairview.  Fairview is close, but completely across town.  It’s so far across the city, I hardly visit.  We need a dispensary in the city, and one on the East side.  I find it hard to believe we have only one.  But at least we weren’t snubbed completely.  I’ll make the long drive across town.  Or rather, someone else will drive me across town.  I have seizures and can’t drive.  It’s a long drive when you can’t drive.  I am salty about it all.   The sick people of Erie County can’t all afford to live in Fairview.  I’m glad I’m not in the south part of Erie county or the many small forest counties that got none.  But one is not enough.  We should have growhouses and dispensaries for all, already! 

There aren’t even any doctors registered yet.  Epilepsy AND seizures are both listed as permittable conditions.  Everyday we wait is a day that could hold one, two, three, four or more seizures for me.  I try so hard to stay positive, but it’s hard when the permits go to out of state businesses.  It doesn’t seem fair and is certainly against the meaning of the bill.  But PA is known as Pennsyltucky to those in the know.  We’re still a backwater state, that swung red due to the massive amounts of rural districts.  Our state government is in a constant deadlock and has a crushing deficit looming.  

Of course, legal cannabis sales are solving tax problems in Colorado and Washington…

Meanwhile in the PA, we wait.

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