Medical marijuana dispensary remains hot topic in Bustleton

A meeting held July 26 yielded high turnout and from neighbors, about two-thirds of whom didn’t like the idea.

The above slide was included in a Power Point presentation by Dr. Charles Pollack of Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp and was shown at a meeting of the Greater Bustleton Civic League on July 26.

If executives from Holistic Pharma were hoping to gauge community sentiment toward the company’s planned medical marijuana dispensary on Krewstown Road, two obvious conclusions emerged from a July 26 public meeting coordinated by the Greater Bustleton Civic League:

A lot of local folks are very interested in Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana program as evidenced by the conference room full of people at American Heritage Federal Credit Union’s headquarters. And among more than 180 attendees, about two-thirds didn’t like the idea of a dispensary in their neighborhood.

Near the end of the two-hour session, GBCL President Jack O’Hara called for a show of hands on whether folks support or oppose the dispensary. By then, many of the meeting-goers had left the building. There was no count taken of the informal vote, in part because the civic league has no official role in the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s medical marijuana licensing process.

Holistic Pharma already holds a license to open for business at 8900 Krewstown Road and can open it as soon as growers and processors start producing medicines in accordance with their own state licenses. For practical purposes, the health department doesn’t expect dispensaries to become fully operational until next year.

In the meantime, the state will also have to certify doctors to recommend the medicines and certify patients who are eligible to purchase medical marijuana. And Holistic Pharma executives will be trying to mitigate local opposition to the Krewstown Road dispensary.

“I am very interested in being a good citizen and community partner,” CEO Keith Morgan told the largely skeptical crowd.

Previously, O’Hara said that Morgan told him that Holistic Pharma would look to move elsewhere if Bustleton folks rejected the dispensary in large numbers. But Morgan stopped short of making the same assurance during the public meeting. He offered to continue meeting with neighbors to address their ongoing concerns about the dispensary.

Morgan’s presentation occupied about half of the meeting. Charles Pollack, MD, the director of Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, began the program with a one-hour lecture about the history, science and medicinal uses of marijuana products.

Pollack said that marijuana or cannabis products have been used as medicines for thousands of years, while modern research and anecdotal evidence have linked it to effective treatment for a variety of conditions such as glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, sickle cell anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Less evidence has been documented linking it to effective cancer treatment and other maladies.

“It’s a ‘miracle cure’ for a lot of things that I don’t think will stand up to medical scrutiny … but there’s hope,” Pollack said.

The above slides were included in a Power Point presentation by Dr. Charles Pollack of Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp and were shown at a meeting of the Greater Bustleton Civic League on July 26. They outline the historical timeline of medical cannabis.

Pennsylvania law requires that medical marijuana licensees provide funding toward new research but they are not permitted to supply marijuana products to research institutions for study.

Neighbors posed a wide array of questions to Morgan and two other Holistic Pharma executives about the laws governing the operation, the expertise of its staff, site security, the type of customers it will serve and the site’s potential for attracting drug abuse and crime to the area. Neighbors also wanted to know why Morgan’s company chose the Bustleton location with a lot of retail businesses and homes nearby.

“We felt it was going to give very good patient access based on population density,” Morgan said. “It will be medical and is not going to attract the type of people you think it’s going to attract.”

Morgan — a Lower Merion native who described himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” mostly in the retail sector — said that he started the medical marijuana business in partnership with in-laws who hold medical marijuana licenses in other states including Massachusetts and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C. Holistic Pharma’s sister company, Holistic Farms, holds a Pennsylvania growing and processing license in Lawrence County, between Pittsburgh and Erie.

Holistic Pharma applied for dispensary licenses in five counties and scored well enough in Berks County to win a license there, Morgan said. But licensees can hold a primary dispensary license in only one county. In addition to the primary license in Bustleton, Holistic Pharma is licensed for secondary dispensaries in Bensalem, Bucks County and East Norriton, Montgomery County.

The company CEO said that the presence of medical marijuana programs has been beneficial to communities that host facilities. The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that the opioid-induced fatality rate is about 25 percent lower in states with medical marijuana programs vs. states without programs.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has adopted demanding regulations compared to other medical marijuana states, including heavy restrictions on pesticides used on marijuana crops and annual license renewals. Pennsylvania does not allow dispensaries to sell marijuana for smoking or eating. All dispensaries in the state must be staffed by a physician or pharmacist during all hours of operation.

“I think the intent of the legislature in Pennsylvania was to make it a truly medical program,” Morgan said. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.