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Health Department says medical marijuana growing licenses not changing hands

| Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, 12:33 p.m.
Marijuana plants
REUTERS
Marijuana plants

The Pennsylvania Department of Health dismissed talk Wednesday of medical marijuana growers trying to shop licenses to other companies before the program is up and running.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Montgomery County, said during a news conference Tuesday that he's heard anecdotal chatter of approved license holders trying to sell to other companies.

April Hutcheson, a health department spokeswoman, said permits are not transferable and cannot be sold, under state law. Entities are allowed to change ownership.

“The permits were awarded to the entities that applied for them,” she said Wednesday. “Any change in ownership, either of the individuals involved or the entity itself, has to be approved by the department.

“For instance, if there are multiple partners and one wants to divest and sell their stake to someone else, that has to be approved and the new investor would have to complete all of the information required in the application. If the department does not approve, the sale cannot move forward. If a change of ownership happens and the department is not informed, the permit can be revoked.”

Gabe Perlow, CEO of PurePenn, an approved marijuana grower and processor in McKeesport, said he has not heard of any growers trying to sell licenses.

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.

Eleven other companies have been approved across the state. The selection process has led to at least two lawsuits from applicants who lost out.

Keystone ReLeaf unsuccessfully applied to win a permit and contends in a lawsuit that the state's process is “infected by bias and favoritism” because the Department of Health has kept the panelists who picked the permit winners secret, in violation of the state's Right-to-Know Law.

Keystone ReLeaf has asked in its lawsuit that Commonwealth Court rescind all awarded permits and start from scratch.

Its effort to possibly halt the program frightened medical marijuana advocates holding multiple rallies inside the state Capitol this week. The program is scheduled to be operational by May.

Adrienne Leasa, 40, of Hummelstown said Wednesday that patients had fought to make medical marijuana legal for years while the companies seeking to restart the selection process “were waiting on the sidelines.”

“And now they're attempting in effect to halt access that we desperately need,” Leasa said.

“We are astonished that the industry that says it is working out of compassion for us would attempt to make us wait longer,” said Leasa, who has used cannabis to treat HIV and depression. “They are the antithesis of our movement. We need this, and we need it now.”

Bekki Roth, 38, of Lebanon said she cried when she heard about the legal challenges because she has “done nothing but wait and pray for a day that I can work with my doctor and be able to heal legally, and not have to worry that I could lose my kids, that I could go to jail.”

Roth suffers from brain cancer. In October 2013, doctors told her she had one year to live.

“I have been treating myself illegally because I have three children. I have a son who's in high school still. And I want to see him graduate,” Roth said. “It seems to me that they care more about money than they do about us patients.”

Susan Love of Columbia spoke alongside her daughter, Sarah, who has autism and Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disorder that requires a special diet and lifelong medical treatment.

When her daughter “experiences a flare-up, she stops eating, her body starts to shut down” and she typically requires hospitalization, Susan Love said.

“In our personal experience, cannabis can ease anxiety, depression, attention deficit and aggression,” she added. “Cannabis will not only ease our concerns, but reduce inflammation in her body.”

BrightStar BioMedics of Luzerne County has also asked Commonwealth Court to overturn the medical marijuana program's selection results, according to a report in The Morning Call.

The program requires big money for players to get involved.

Growers were required to submit a nonrefundable $10,000 application fee; a $200,000 permit fee, which was refundable if the permit was not granted; and proof of $2 million in capital.

Dispensaries had to pay a nonrefundable $5,000 application fee; a $30,000 permit fee, which was refundable if the permit was not granted; and proof of $150,000 in capital.

Ben Schmitt and Natasha Lindstrom are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @NewsNatasha.

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