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Legal weed growing into big business

| Thursday, April 20, 2017, 8:36 p.m.
PurePenn CEO Gabe Perlow stands overlooking the Monongahela River Valley - an area he hopes to aid in transforming by building a medical cannabis grower and processing facility.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Exhibitioners put the finishing touches on their exhibition booths at the David A. Lawrence Convention Center, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in preparation for the World Medical Cannabis Conference & Expo which opens Friday

The medical marijuana trade used to be considered a mom-and-pop industry.

Those days are long gone.

“This is now a giant industry moving from unregulated to regulated,” said Scott Greiper, co-founder and president of New York-based Viridian Capital Advisors. “It's fascinating.”

Greiper's advisory and investment firm is dedicated solely to cannabis. And he's all in.

“We have a long way to go to reach the full value of what this market can become,” he told the Tribune-Review.

In North America, consumers spent $6.7 billion on legalized marijuana in 2016, according to a report from Arcview Market Research, a leading publisher of cannabis market research.

Greiper will be in Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday to dissect the financial possibilities associated with legal weed during the World Medical Marijuana Business Conference and Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

Potential investors are interested in learning how they can cash in on the industry.

“This started out as an evolving space run by less than professional operators with not a lot of entrepreneurial experience,” Greiper said. “This is not a normal business. It's still illegal on a federal level. A lot of the banking world is federally regulated. That's why we got called in to help.”

Viridian provides financial and data analysis to the cannabis industry. He said it's the right time to invest in marijuana.

For downtrodden cities like McKeesport, medical marijuana could go a long way in stimulating the local economy.

Pittsburgh real estate developer Gabe Perlow created PurePenn LLC with the hope of bringing a medical marijuana cultivation and processing plant to a 5-acre plot at the RIDC Industrial Center of McKeesport.

PurePenn applied in March to the Pennsylvania Department of Health for one of 12 permits to be awarded to marijuana growing and processing facilities.

Perlow, a Pittsburgh attorney, told the Tribune-Review that waiting to hear from the state health department has been nerve-racking. With the help of a team, he began working on a 2,000-page application to the state right after Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in April 2016.

Perlow formed a partnership with Moxie, a Nevada company that processes and distributes pharmaceutical-grade cannabis-oil products, in an attempt to win a license.

“We needed someone who knows the industry,” he said. “They hold ownership in PurePenn. This is a real partnership.”

He estimates construction alone could cost $1.5 million to $2 million and expenses could be as high as $7 million in the first year to get up and running.

“This isn't just agricultural, this isn't just pharmaceutical manufacturing,” Perlow said. “This is a complex process involving both of them. That is one thing Moxie brings to the table.”

Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will be available in pills, oils, tinctures or ointments.

The health department is regulating the program, which forbids smoking marijuana in dry leaf form.

“There are tons of possibilities out there for what the plant can do as a consumer product, and that's where there is major potential for this to be a booming industry,” Perlow said.

Additionally, Perlow estimated a facility in McKeesport could bring up to 75 jobs, not including construction. He said the lowest wage would be $14.50 an hour.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or on Twitter @bencschmitt.

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