Pubdate: Wed, 17 Aug 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Pamela Wood


Town of Hancock Joins With Grower of Medical Cannabis

The small Western Maryland town of Hancock - population 1,545 - is 
poised to be a part owner of a medical marijuana company after 
winning a license to grow cannabis plants this week.

The town is in a unique partnership with an Arizona company that 
plans to grow cannabis in a town-owned warehouse and share profits 
with the Washington County town.

After Hancock suffered an exodus of about 1,000 jobs over the past 
two decades, the cannabis industry could spark an economic turnaround 
for the town and surrounding communities, said Mayor Daniel Murphy.

"I've embraced it, our town has embraced it," Murphy said. "We're 
glad to be on the ground floor of medical cannabis. We hope it will 
be a success."

Hancock officials have been working on the medical cannabis plans for 
about a year, after the town was approached by Harvest Inc., a 
company based in Arizona that has cannabis operations there and has 
obtained licenses in Nevada and Illinois.

Harvest had its eye on the Stanley Fulton Center, a large warehouse 
in Hancock that once housed a manufacturing plant for Fleetwood 
Travel Trailers and is now owned by the town. Harvest approached town 
officials and worked out an agreement to rent the warehouse and give 
the town a 5 percent equity stake in the operation, which will be 
called Harvest of Maryland LLC.

Though the town will have a 5 percent stake in the company, it won't 
have a seat on the company's board or a say in its operations. The 
town would be insulated from liability if the venture fails and racks 
up debts, Murphy said.

The Town Council voted unanimously last October to partner with 
Harvest. The mayor and council members are chosen in nonpartisan elections.

Harvest promised to spend $15 million on renovations and employ 120 
people if it could get cannabis growing and processing businesses off 
the ground in Hancock.

Skeptics were quickly won over when they learned about the plans for 
tight security, the medical uses of cannabis and the promise of 
sorely needed jobs, Murphy said.

"They came, they embraced our little town. They fell in love with 
this unique town on the Potomac ... and we were very impressed with 
their track record," Murphy said.

He noted that Harvest brought expertise in the industry to the 
application process, while Hancock's involvement gave the proposal local roots.

Maryland's Medical Cannabis Commission issued 15 preliminary licenses 
for cannabis growers and 15 for processors on Monday. Though Harvest 
of Maryland was seeking both, it was only awarded a growing license.

The commission has yet to issue up to 94 licenses for dispensaries.

Harvest CEO Steve White said he thinks the company can eventually win 
a processing license, too. And if it doesn't, it can instead 
cultivate more cannabis in the Hancock warehouse, he said.

White said he looked for a spot to open a cannabis facility in a 
rural part of Maryland and quickly settled on Hancock.

"They had this facility ready for us to move into, then we really 
liked the leadership in the town," he said. The project became "more 
than just developing a successful business but also having a true 
impact on a community that needed it," he said.

Murphy said the opening of a cannabis operation represents a step 
forward for Hancock.

The small town, which sits at the narrowest part of Maryland, once 
drew people from surrounding counties, Pennsylvania and West Virginia 
to work in its factories: Fleetwood Travel Trailers, London Fog and 
Rayloc Auto Parts. Combined, they once employed about 1,000 skilled 
workers. Today, only Rayloc remains, with a smaller workforce in 
less-skilled jobs.

Workers have been forced to find jobs farther away, in Hagerstown and 
Frederick, adding to their commuting times and costs, Murphy said.

"Unemployment is high; mean income is low," Murphy said.

Washington County's unemployment rate was 5 percent in June, compared 
to the statewide rate of 4.5 percent, according to the state 
Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"If the 100 jobs comes through like we're hoping, that could be 
important for a small town," said Wayne Keefer, who owns North Bend 
Treasures antiques shop in Hancock and serves as president of the 
Hancock Chamber of Commerce. He also serves as a Washington County 

Hancock has been trying to boost its tourism industry, capitalizing 
on the Western Maryland Rail Trail and the C&O Canal towpath, but 
tourism alone can't save the town, Keefer said.

Partnering with a medical cannabis company is an outside-the-box way 
to spur economic development. Keefer said once residents and business 
owners learned the details of the proposal, most were on board.

"I think some people weighed: What's more detrimental to our 
community? Growing medical cannabis or losing 100 jobs?" Keefer said. 
"By far, the vast majority of people see the benefit of the jobs as 
well as the benefits of medicinal marijuana."

Not everyone is sold on the concept, however.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Republican who represents Washington County 
in Annapolis, remains opposed to bringing the medical cannabis 
industry to his community.

"I didn't want to see Colorado come to Washington County, and I don't 
think my constituents wanted that either," Parrott said.

In addition to Harvest of Maryland in Hancock, the state awarded 
growing and processing licenses to Kind Therapeutics USA, which also 
would be located in Washington County.

Parrott believes that the licensing of medical cannabis and the 
recent decriminalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 
represent steps toward full legalization of the drug, which he opposes.

Getting involved in the industry "definitely is not worth it" for the 
jobs these businesses would bring, Parrott said. He'd rather promote 
business such as Lanco Dairy Farms, which is reopening a shuttered 
cheese plant near Hancock.

Murphy, a veterinarian who has been mayor for 20 years, still sees 
only the upside of the cannabis facility.

"We were very lucky in our community to have acceptance from our 
citizens," he said. "They were so excited about the possibility of 
jobs that they were able to listen with an open mind and understand 
that we weren't talking about pushing drugs on the street."

White doesn't know yet when Harvest can start operations in Hancock, 
as the company still needs final approval from the state commission. 
"Ideally for us, we'd like to start tomorrow," he said.

He said he knows of no other public-private partnership in the 
cannabis industry like his company's relationship with Hancock.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom