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Medical marijuana job fair draws hundreds in McKeesport

Ben Schmitt
| Thursday, July 27, 2017, 5:09 p.m.
Michael Cole, 32, of Clairton displays a copy of Time magazine while waiting for an interview with PurePenn outside the McKeesport Palisades Event Center on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Michael Cole, 32, of Clairton displays a copy of Time magazine while waiting for an interview with PurePenn outside the McKeesport Palisades Event Center on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
People seeking jobs line up outside PurePenn's job fair at the McKeesport Palisades Event Center on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
People seeking jobs line up outside PurePenn's job fair at the McKeesport Palisades Event Center on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Job hunters line up Thursday, July 27, 2017, for an interview with PurePenn in McKeesport.
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Job hunters line up Thursday, July 27, 2017, for an interview with PurePenn in McKeesport.
PurePenn donated $50,000 to establish the McKeesport Community Fund.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
PurePenn donated $50,000 to establish the McKeesport Community Fund.
People seeking jobs line up outside the McKeesport Palisades Event Center for an interview with PurePenn on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
People seeking jobs line up outside the McKeesport Palisades Event Center for an interview with PurePenn on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
A shovel sits in the dirt before a groundbreaking for PurePenn's facility in McKeesport on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A shovel sits in the dirt before a groundbreaking for PurePenn's facility in McKeesport on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Groundbreaking takes place Thursday, July 27, 2017, for PurePenn's facility in McKeesport.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Groundbreaking takes place Thursday, July 27, 2017, for PurePenn's facility in McKeesport.

Scott Stallworth sees a future in cultivating medical marijuana.

For that reason, he joined hundreds who lined up on a muggy Thursday for a chance to land a job with PurePenn, a marijuana growing and processing company which is opening a plant in McKeesport. The company will hire 25 employees to start but plans to expand to 50 as the business grows.

Job seekers lined up for several blocks outside the McKeesport Palisades Event Center, where employers conducted meet-and-greet interviews. The job fair began after officials with PurePenn, McKeesport and Allegheny County broke ground a half-mile away on a 21,000-square-foot facility on a five-acre site at McKeesport's RIDC Park.

"It was expected," Stallworth said of the turnout. "There are a lot of people who want to get into this industry; there's money in this industry."

PurePenn CEO Gabe Perlow passed out bottled water to those awaiting interviews. Worker salaries will start at about $15 an hour plus benefits, he said. The company hopes to hire sales managers, cultivators, packagers and lab technicians.

"We actually prefer no experience because then we can train them in the way we do things," Perlow said. "We believe in our process."

PurePenn plans to open for growing and production by year's end.

Stallworth, 34, of Carnegie, was managing a GameStop store in Oakland before it closed.

"I want to deal with anything in cultivation. I've always wanted to grow," he said.

Coty Slater, 23, of Edgewood, graduated from West Virginia University with a horticulture degree.

"I figured I'd put my degree to the test," he said. "I feel like it would provide a great benefit to the people in this area and for generations to come."

Under state law, patients — after consulting with doctors — can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies that they have one of 17 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders. The state industry is expected to be up and running by mid-2018.

Sara Michaels, 38, a McKeesport resident and stay-at-home mother, said the jobs could go a long way in transforming the community.

"We're legitimizing a lot of things that go on already here," she said. "We're turning people into patients instead of labeling them as criminals, and we're bringing their medication to them in a legitimate way."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health in June approved PurePenn's application to grow and process cannabis plants. The company plans to make pharmaceutical-grade capsules, ointments, tinctures and oils.

Perlow said the company plans to offer a mortgage assistance program to help employees become homeowners.

"Every employee will be given the opportunity to make a career and build a great life with PurePenn," he said. "We want the packager or driver to have a pathway to become a supervisor if he or she aspires, creating a family-like culture that promotes from within. We are eager to help revitalize our chosen host city of McKeesport by providing new opportunity for a hard-working, skilled-labor force in this historic steel community."

During the groundbreaking, PurePenn presented a $50,000 check to McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, establishing the McKeesport Community Fund, and pledged to contribute portion of annual profits.

Michael Cole, 32, of Clairton, marveled at the scene. He also sought out a cultivation job.

"This is a good opportunity for residents to get a good job and to help the community," he said. "I wanted to be a part of the cannabis medication movement. I've seen that is helping a lot of folks in treating cancer problems and other things."

After his interview, Stallworth followed up with the Trib: "I got to talk to Gabriel Perlow himself. He recognized me from social media, which got me really hopeful in my journey into this industry."

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

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