By LorettaRodgers and MichelLee
In what is believed to be the first of its kind in the county, Aston commissioners, last week, unanimously approved a conditional use application from Medgarden, LLC to operate a marijuana growing and wholesale distribution facility at 414 Knowlton Road and Sharon Hill and Chester may not be far behind.
Attorney Ernest Angelos, representing the company, said applications to the state for permission to do business are due March 20 but could not be submitted prior to the company getting an approval from the township.
Aston commissioners recently adopted an ordinance that paves the way for medical marijuana (medpot) growing and wholesale distribution businesses.
Principal stipulations of the ordinance require that a facility only be located in the Limited Industrial (LI) district, be at least 1,000 feet from a school or day care center, and be in a fully enclosed and secure structure not accessible to minors.
There also can be no visual exterior evidence of any medical marijuana growing facility.
On Thursday, March 9, at 7 p.m. on the second floor of borough hall, Sharon Hill Borough will publicly deliberate about the allowance of a medical marijuana dispensary at 1300 Chester Pike. At the conclusion of the meeting, Council expects to vote to either approve or reject the medpot facility and wants as much citizen involvement as possible.
Chester appears to be slightly ahead on cashing in on America’s new, semi-legalized cash crop.
Last month, Chester City Council unanimously approved a resolution to enter a “Development and Operating Agreement” with Illinois Grown Medicine (IGM), a minority-owned Chicago-based firm with two dispensaries and cultivation facilities in Chicago. IGM, according to its website, is currently operating a medical cannabis pilot program in its home-state.
However, IGM’s location in Chester is still under wraps and past inquiries from The Spirit to the city about the facility remain unanswered.
Aston’s ordinance also allows indoor medpot growing activity that may include harvesting marijuana plants and drying of flowers, but allow extraction that produces concentrated THC, except if authorized under the Medical Marijuana Act for permit holders.
Medpot is not the cannabis that is smoked recreationally, but rather is prescribed by a physician in the form of pills, oils, creams and a nebulizer to provide relief to people with a host of problems including cancer, multiple sclerosis, autism, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS, and seizures.
Medgarden, LLC CEO Jennifer McKee responded to questions posed by township Solicitor Beth Naughton-Beck, commissioners, and residents.
McKee said a complete list of employees and contractors will be provided to authorities and all transporting of marijuana plants to the facility will be in armored vehicles with real time video surveillance. She said the facility will have 24-hour video surveillance that will be accessible to Aston Township police, a silent/panic alarm system and a full-time director of security.
Of the approximately 20 residents there, three posed questions ranging from inquiring if employees will be drug-tested to possible traffic issues.
“I do think this was decided before we came here tonight,” said Knowlton Road resident Nancy DuPuis following the vote. “I am concerned about safety. We have a quiet street and I’d like it to stay that way. However, I am all in favor of helping people if they are ill.”
Township Manager William McConville, Sr., who lost his wife to cancer, praised the company.
“I applaud you for taking the lead on this medical marijuana issue,” McConville said. “There are various medical problems, and especially cancer, and people who really need this who want to stay coherent and not be dependent upon opioids or morphine. This will help them and that’s the whole idea here. It will give people another choice.”
McKee said daily operations, if all goes well and a license is approved by the state, could be up and running within six months.
But in 2016, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to pass Senate Bill 3, the legislation approving the use of medical marijuana. Although the bill has already been signed, it will take between 18 to 24 months before residents will have access to cannabis, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s official governor.pa website.
With the possibly of a nearly two-year wait, many municipalities in the county have already been courted with offers from weed entrepreneurs requesting to build cultivation facilities and dispensaries.
Marijuana has been federally panned for decades and the criticisms are gradually fading. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, in a category of “drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” And with many areas of the county blighted by opioid addiction, there are prevailing fears that the “gateway drug” will only exacerbate it.
Medical cannabis, however, will only be available for distribution to citizens suffering from cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism or any of the other 17 approved ailments eligible for cannabis treatment, according to governor.pa.
As an additional bonus, the medpot industry presence in the state will generate a different kind of green- money. On solely the revenue from application fees and charges, the state is projected to generate $7 million in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, according to the House Republican Appropriations Committee.
And according to The Cannabist, a popular marijuana trade publication, by 2020 medical marijuana is projected to generate $980 million in US sales.