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Pennsylvania’s first legal marijuana crop gets the green light

Medical marijuana is on track for distribution “sometime in 2018,” Gov. Tom Wolf says.

medical marijuana grower/processor in western Pennsylvania became the first state licensee Tuesday to receive the go-ahead to begin production.

Cresco Yeltrah in Jefferson County, northeast of Pittsburgh, is one of 12 grower/processors licensed for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, the state Department of Health announced.

“Every day we hear from patients who are desperately waiting for medical marijuana to help alleviate the symptoms of their serious medical conditions,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “My message to them today is that Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is moving forward and we will have medication to them sometime in 2018.

“Cresco Yeltrah will now be able to grow medical marijuana, making sure that patients will not have to wait much longer.”

Cresco Yeltrah is cleared to begin accepting seeds and clones to grow medical marijuana after undergoing several state health inspections, according to Tuesday’s announcement. It also is fully integrated with the state-approved seed-to-sale tracking system.

“In the coming weeks, we expect the 11 other grower/processors to be ready to grow and process medical marijuana,” Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Rachel Levine said in a statement. “We are working with them, as well as the dispensaries, to ensure the program stays on track. Patients are our first priority, and we want to get medication to them as safely and efficiently as possible.”

The state issued the grower/processor permits in June, selecting the 12 winners from among 177 applicants. The department has also issued permits to 27 entities to operate retail dispensaries, including GuadCo LLC’s Keystone Canna Remedies at 2467 Baglyos Circle in Bethlehem Township and Mission Pennsylvania II LLC at 2733 W. Emmaus Ave. in Allentown.

Cresco Yeltrah says in a news release it is constructing a state-of-the-art cultivation center and laboratory in northwest Brookville and dispensaries in Butler, Pittsburgh (Strip District) and a third location soon to be announced.

cresco-yeltrah.jpegCresco Yeltrah’s medical marijuana cultivation center and laboratory in northwest Brookville, Jefferson County, became Oct. 17, 2017, the first to receive Pennsylvania Department of Health approval to begin accepting seeds and clones and growing cannabis to be made into approved prescription products. (Courtesy photo | For lehighvalleylive.com) 

Construction on converting the 40,000-plus-square-foot facility began immediately after the permit was awarded, according to the company. 

“All of the required mechanisms are in place to ensure the safety and security as required by law,” the release states. “With a controlled cultivation environment, a full grow cycle takes approximately 120 days which will allow for their complete line of products to be available for patients statewide in February 2018.”

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Pennsylvania’s program allows medical marijuana to be prescribed only in the forms of a pill or oil; topical forms, including gel, creams or ointments; a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization, excluding dry leaf or plant form; tincture or liquid.

Cresco Yeltrah says it “will grow a variety of over 30 different genetic strains in Brookville and will produce a unique array of innovative pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products ranging from high CBD strains, vapor oils, transdermal patches and pills.  

“Cresco Yeltrah’s distinctive line of products ensures patients will receive consistent, repeatable, precision-dosed medicine — as the program does not allow for the sale of raw marijuana flower. Their scientifically developed products utilize all beneficial properties of the marijuana plant including methods of relief without the typical ‘high’ or euphoric feeling the plant is known for.”

The grower/processor has also launched an awareness and outreach campaign featuring billboards and print and digital ads geared toward medical marijuana education for Pennsylvanians diagnosed with any of the 17 conditions approved for a cannabis prescription.

Those conditions are: 

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
  • Autism.
  • Cancer.
  • Crohn’s Disease.
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Glaucoma.
  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
  • Huntington’s Disease.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
  • Intractable Seizures.
  • Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Neuropathies.
  • Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.
  • Sickle Cell Anemia.

The Medical Marijuana Program was signed into law by Wolf on April 17, 2016.

Its continued rollout comes despite a lawsuit filed by Bethlehem-based Keystone ReLeaf LLC that seeks to block the issuance of grower/processor permits. The suit filed Sept. 8 remains pending in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, with a hearing scheduled Oct. 31 in Harrisburg. 

Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

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Both chambers recessed until after July 4th, when they say they’ll try to balance the spending plan.

The main spending bill in a $32 billion bipartisan budget package is past the Pennsylvania Legislature on the state fiscal year’s final day, although lawmakers don’t know how it’ll all be funded.

The House voted 173-27 on Friday, hours after the Senate voted 43-7. The package was unveiled a day earlier, after being negotiated in secret. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports it, but has yet to say whether he’ll sign it if lawmakers can’t figure out a spending plan. (Click here for his statement.)

Both chambers recessed until at least Wednesday, and lawmakers say they’ll try next week to find $2 billion-plus to cover the shortfall.

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The governor’s office says spending is virtually flat under the package. Counting the amounts above the last approved budget of $31.5 billion, the increase is nearly 3 percent. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to universities is awaiting passage until lawmakers pass a revenue plan.

Lehigh Valley lawmakers voiced support for the package.

“I voted for this budget bill (House Bill 218) because it makes key investments in education and successful economic development programs and will make our State government run more effectively and efficiently,” state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, said in a statement. “Even though financial resources are limited, I was pleased that this bipartisan spending plan increases education funding by $175 million. …

“Like all budgets, there was a great deal of give-and-take negotiation. However, I am satisfied by this frugal and targeted approach to appropriating limited state funds.”

State Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, stated: “I’m particularly pleased to see $100 million added for basic education and $25 million more for special education as originally requested by the governor. That means an additional $2.8 million in basic education and $434,427 in special education for the Allentown School District. It also includes a $30 million increase for Pre-K Counts and Head Start, which are important early childhood education initiatives with proven success.”

Here are some highlights of the bipartisan spending plan for Pennsylvania state government’s 2017-18 budget year that starts Saturday:

THE BIG PICTURE

It increases spending through the state’s main bank account to almost $32 billion. The governor’s office counts the spending increase in the new fiscal year as $54 million, or 0.2 percent, using a baseline of more than $31.9 billion. That means that spending in the just-ending fiscal year rose 6 percent.

Using the state’s last enacted budget figure of just over $31.5 billion as a baseline for both fiscal years, the budget package approves an extra $870 million more in spending, or almost 3 percent. That includes approximately $410 million more going on the just-ending fiscal year’s books and $460 million more on the new fiscal year’s books. Wolf had initially proposed a budget of about $32.3 billion in February, including $1 billion in new spending when counting approximately $230 million being requested for the just-ending fiscal year.

The package lacks legislation to fully fund it. It requires more than $2 billion in yet-to-be-identified cash to balance, according to lawmakers. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to universities is awaiting passage until lawmakers pass a revenue plan.

___

SPECIFICS

— Plans to merge the Department of Corrections and Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole into a new Department of Criminal Justice.

— Plans to merge the Human Services and Health departments, but keep the Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs departments separate.

___

EDUCATION

— Increases aid for public school operations and instruction by $100 million, an increase of nearly 2 percent to $6 billion.

— Increases early-childhood education funding by $30 million, an increase of 15 percent to $226 million.

— Increases special education funding by $25 million, an increase of 2 percent to above $1.1 billion.

— Increases state-owned university aid by $9 million, an increase of 2 percent to $453 million; otherwise holds higher education funding flat at $1.6 billion.

___

DEPARTMENT SPENDING

— EDUCATION: Grows 3.5 percent to $12.2 billion.

— HUMAN SERVICES: Cut 2 percent to $12.1 billion.

— PENSIONS: Grows 6 percent to approximately $4.3 billion

— PRISONS AND PAROLE: Cut by less than 1 percent to $2.5 billion.

–STATE POLICE: Grows almost 7 percent to more than $1.3 billion.

— COURTS: Held flat at $355.5 million.

— GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Grows 5 percent to $325 million.

— ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: Cut by less than 1 percent to $148 million.

— ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE: Held flat at $96 million.

— OPIOID AND HEROIN RESPONSE: Grows 19 percent to almost $76 million.

___

The governor issued the following statement on the budget: 

“Over the past two years, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to make progress for the people of Pennsylvania.

“After decades of failure, we passed pension reform that will put Pennsylvania on the path to a sustainable fiscal future, save taxpayers billions, and reduce payments to Wall Street fund managers. This budget fully funds our pension obligations. We passed the most significant liquor reform since prohibition. We set our differences aside, and made real changes for customers and taxpayers.

“After years of devastating education cuts, we have restored more than $800 million in education funding. I am going to keep fighting to fix our schools, but this budget represents one of the most significant investments in schools in our lifetime. And we passed a fair funding formula, taking Pennsylvania off a shameful list of states without a way to fairly fund their schools. This budget keeps investing in schools.

“Together, we’ve fought the heroin and opioid crisis that continues to plague our communities. We have developed treatment options and provided lifesaving medicine, but we know the crisis has not abated so we’re continuing to fight by making drug courts available to low level offenders so those who are struggling can get treatment.

“Today, we finalized a general appropriations bill. It’s a start, and it’s not everything I wanted or everything Republicans wanted, but unlike D.C., we can compromise and get things done just like when we passed bipartisan pension reform and bipartisan liquor reform.

“This budget includes much of the savings, efficiencies, and cuts I proposed in February in my budget address. But we avoided deep, indiscriminate cuts that would have endangered our ability to deliver services to the people of Pennsylvania.

“This budget invests over $175 million more in our schools. Over the past two years, we’ve restored more than $800 million in cuts to schools.

“This budget helps those in Pennsylvania who need help the most. It reduces the waiting list for those with intellectual disabilities; this budget makes additional investments in our efforts to fight the opioid epidemic; this budget invests in key programs to create manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania, and allows the commonwealth to team up with businesses and institutions of higher learning to create jobs and a strong workforce.

“And it builds on our efforts to make government more efficient and responsive. We consolidated IT and HR functions, and through an internal team focused on finding efficiencies and making government more effective, we have saved over $150 million and improved customer service at places like DMVs. I have rolled up my sleeves and worked with employees throughout the commonwealth to deliver change and efficiencies, and I am heartened that the legislature has joined my efforts.

“But there is still work to do: We need a sustainable revenue package that gets Pennsylvania on track. For too many years, Pennsylvania has lurched from crisis to crisis. We began to address it with pension reform, and by fully funding our pension obligation, we have taken another important step. But Pennsylvania cannot get ahead if we do not take our responsibility for long term financial stability seriously. Let’s redouble our efforts, and continue to show people the progress we can make by working together.”

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