Pubdate: Thu, 14 Sep 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Column: Philly420
Author: Chris Goldstein


A pay-to-play system has developed between state-licensed cannabis
operators and municipal governments across the country for local
zoning. The same model has quickly materialized in Pennsylvania, and
now one town has gone too far.

Muhlenberg Township in Berks County was trying to squeeze a dispensary
- - Franklin Bioscience LLC - for 5 percent of its annual profits.

The issue was revealed when the Pennsylvania Department of Health
released a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer from medical-marijuana
program director John Collins to the company's CEO, Andrew Weiss,
allowing the dispensary to relocate after getting pressured for the
cash. Collins wrote:

"If Franklin Bioscience is required to pay the host benefit fee,
Franklin Bioscience's financial position may be negatively impacted,
which may, in turn, result in inflated medical marijuana prices for

Towns and cities usually offer huge tax breaks and pro-business
incentives to lure jobs. Quite the opposite is happening for the
cannabis oil operators. But far from being victims, the permit
applicants helped create the problem: In the early rush for approval
letters and favorable zoning, they made a wide range of promises to
local officials.

Ryan Briggs at City and State Pa uncovered dozens of letters
supporting deep-pocketed medical marijuana applicants that the
Department of Health had failed to make public. Glowing
recommendations for prospective cultivators and dispensers were sent
by state legislators and county officials from both parties, on
government letterhead. Various niceties about applicants were also
sent in from universities, private businesses, and even a school
district superintendent.

But any promises would only come true if the applicants were

An interesting document unearthed by Briggs also involved Franklin
Bioscience LLC. Penned by Delaware Valley University on behalf of
Franklin's failed grower/processor application in Doylestown, the
communication included a "Letter of Collaboration." The school was
upset about the denied permit because Franklin had pledged two annual
$2,000 scholarships along with a $50,000 endowment and major strategic

So, Muhlenberg Township may have been looking to sweeten deals that
the company made elsewhere.

The pay-to-play also opens up a new question about the dispensary,
TerraVida, that was forced to relocate from East Mount Airy.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cindy Bass joined Councilwoman Cherelle
Parker in organizing a months-long effort to uproot the medical
cannabis oil retail store. Now, Bass and TerraVida are working
together to find a new site within the city. The question is: At what

The answer for some growers seems to be: About $50,000.

PurePenn, one of the 12 growers/processors who won a permit, formed a
partnership with the City of McKeesport to create a special "community
fund." As noted in an earlier column, PurePenn presented a $50,000
check during a ceremonial groundbreaking in July.

Another grower, Prime Wellness, broke ground in South Heidelberg this
week and a $50,000 check was presented to another newly formed
community foundation. Prime Wellness had faced some pushback by the
community, but that seems to be resolved.

Pennsylvania's marijuana program director John Collins is correct that
the cost of greasing all these local wheels will be passed on to
patients. That's unfair, considering that most permit holders are
folding a Keystone State operation into a much larger business or
holding company.

Many of the permit winners proudly promote that they own licensed
cannabis operations in multiple states. They flew in from Illinois,
Connecticut, Minnesota, and New York waving blank checks from
investors. Local millionaires tried to compete by touting their
famously deep pockets. Somehow, in the middle of all this money, not a
single price menu for patients has been discussed.

Collins has unique powers compared with officials in other states when
it comes to controlling the price, but the methods remain unclear.
Heavily processed cannabis oil products are skyrocketing in cost
compared with the declining price of whole-plant marijuana flowers,
which are still banned for Pennsylvania patients.

Health insurance doesn't offset any of the costs associated with
medical marijuana, from doctor visits to vape pen cartridges. Patients
won't register into the program if they can't afford it. Most of the
qualifying conditions are extremely serious, and that means many
patients already live on a fixed income.

Given the luxury level of Pennsylvania's cannabis business atmosphere,
Collins may need to act early and decisively to rein in a free-for-all
on patients' wallets. The spirit of the law, meant to offer
compassionate access, is at stake.
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MAP posted-by: Matt