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Allegheny

9 companies competing for medical marijuana dispensary licenses in Pittsburgh

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, July 19, 2018, 3:06 p.m.
Nine companies are competing for licenses to dispense medical marijuana at facilities in Pittsburgh, including Avita LLC, which hopes to open a dispensary at The Highline, a former warehouse complex along East Carson Street in the South Side.
Nine companies are competing for licenses to dispense medical marijuana at facilities in Pittsburgh, including Avita LLC, which hopes to open a dispensary at The Highline, a former warehouse complex along East Carson Street in the South Side.

Avita LLC, one of nine companies hoping to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Pittsburgh, has plans for a facility in a former warehouse being renovated along East Carson Street near Station Square.

Avita Chief Financial Officer Craig Blenk said he’s facing strong competition for a permit, but hopes to open next year at The Highline, an office and retail complex owned by McKnight Realty Partners.

Thirty-nine companies have applied for dispensary licenses in Southwestern Pennsylvania, including 14 wishing to operate in Allegheny County, according to the Pennsylvania Health Department. Nine of them, including Avita, are vying for dispensaries in Pittsburgh.

“You have to score high and show that you’re going to do all the necessary things that the commonwealth wants to see.” he said. “We have our drawings, we have the design. We just have to get in construction mode. If we could open in the first quarter 2019 that would be great.”

Avita includes a group of commercial realtors and PurePenn, a marijuana growing and processing facility operating in McKeesport.

Blenk said the company would offer only the highest quality marijuana products, including pills, oils, tinctures, ointments and leaf at its 3,400 square foot facility.

He said, if licensed, the company would distribute $250,000 over five years to South Side-based Birmingham Foundation, a private grant-making organization focusing on youth-oriented and human services programming in Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods.

“The needs in South Pittsburgh, particularly among the youth, are much greater than our ability to meet them,” Mark Bibro, the foundation’s executive director, said in an email. “We are so delighted that Avita is willing to sacrifice some of their earned revenue to invest in the kids, because the kids are our future. We are excited about this partnership and believe that it will improve the outcomes of the lives of our children.”

Blenk said the Highline location is perfect because it is in close to major streets and public transportation routes.

It’s also in close proximity to some of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods with high rates of opioid addition. Medical marijuana has been approved for use in addiction treatment.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016. The Health Department regulates the program. Leaf or flower marijuana will soon be sold by dispensaries for vaporization. Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 21 qualified medical conditions.

“We’ve been motivated by improving quality of life for Pennsylvania residents who are suffering from these medical conditions,” Blenk said.

Pennsylvania has so far licensed 29 medical marijuana dispensaries, including two in Pittsburgh. The Allegheny County Dispensary Facility is operating in the Strip District and Solevo Wellness in Squirrel Hill.

As of July 13, 51,244 patients had registered for the medical marijuana program; 28,320 of them have been certified by doctors.

Health Department spokesman Nate Wardle said the state would award up to three new permits for growing and processing marijuana in southwestern Pennsylvania in addition to the four dispensary permits.

Eight companies have applied for growing and processing licenses in Allegheny County, including four that hope to locate in Pittsburgh.

The Health Department is expected to announce the licenses in August.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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