The 12 growers/processors and 27 dispensary permit recipients in the state of Pennsylvania statewide have been invited to a Cannabis Program Kick-off gala Wednesday night at the Andy Warhol Museum. The event is being hosted by Cresco Yeltrah, which is one of the five medical marijuana grower/processor facility permit recipient groups and also has permits to operate up to three dispensaries. The program will consist of the marijuana groups sharing tips on vendors, marketing strategies and discussing challenges as well as the opportunities present in the budding industry. Do you find it unusual that competitors would come together to help each other?
Winners of last June’s medical marijuana permits plan a Cannabis Program Kick-off gala Wednesday night at the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side.
It should be a remarkable gathering of sorts, considering the attendees soon will be competing for shares in a medical marijuana market of still-undetermined size.
But this is not your typical industry.
“One of the things we have learned is that there’s a need for a significant amount of cooperation, that operators in this industry have to work with each other for the purpose of making sure people are aware of this program and they know what the process is like,” said Charles Bachtell, an Illinois-based attorney and co-founder of Cresco Yeltrah.
Cresco Yeltrah, which is hosting the Warhol reception and a second one in Philadelphia on Thursday, is one of five groups that received permits for a medical marijuana grower/processor facility, as well as permits to operate up to three dispensaries.
The 12 grower/processor and 27 dispensary permit recipients statewide have been invited to the Cresco gatherings.
“Our consultant told us from the get-go that you have to be an advocate for the industry. We have to be party to making our own market,” echoed Corinne Ogrodnik, CEO of Maitri Medicinals, LLC, which scored highest among the region’s dispensary applicants.
If the dynamic is atypical — imagine, for example, the unlikelihood of competing car dealers or grocery chains getting together to share tips on vendors or marketing strategies — not many new industries share the challenges, or present the opportunities, that the medical marijuana sector offers.
Among the immediate challenges is the calendar: One condition of Pennsylvania’s 2016 medical marijuana law requires them to be operational in six months — a deadline now just three months away.
“It definitely makes for every day-to-day to be very busy,” said Ms. Ogrodnik, whose group initially plans to operate dispensaries in South Oakland and Uniontown. “You’ve got to get four more things done every day than in a regular day.”
Both Mr. Bachtell and Ms. Ogrodnik sound confident they can meet that operational deadline. Mr. Bachtell said his organization is expecting a first harvest at the Brookville, Jefferson County, cultivation facility in January. Cresco Yeltrah plans call for dispensaries in the Strip District, Butler and a third still-undisclosed location.
From there, the permit holders will be relying on a multi-step process that requires patients with one of 17 specific ailments to find a physician willing to certify them eligible to get cannabis. Plant and edible forms of marijuana are not allowed.
Both Cresco Yeltrah and Maitri took similar approaches in their successful applications, combining national expertise with local connections and know-how.
Mr. Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, LLC which runs three cultivation facilities in Illinois, teamed with Kent, Trent and Michael Hartley (“Yeltrah” is Hartley spelled backwards), who operate glass factories in East Butler.
Maitri, which translates to “benevolence” and “compassion” in Sanskrit, is headed by Ms. Ogrodnik and husband COO Joseph Vesely who are both third-generation southwestern Pennsylvanians with graduate degrees in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University. They relied on Colorado-based Canna Advisors consultants to guide them.
Both groups, too, have immediate family members with medical conditions they say have responded to medical cannabis.
“Literally, it was revolutionary,” said Ms. Ogrodnik, whose autoimmune disorder caused muscle soreness and fatigue. She tried treating the condition while on a trip to Colorado, which has legalized recreational marijuana.
“Within 24 hours, the relief of my symptoms and the improvement on my wellness was profound.”
They know, though, that personal passion and outside expertise alone won’t be enough unless physicians and patients become familiar and comfortable with the idea of using their product.
“A lot of people don’t know that you don’t have to smoke cannabis. It can be taken in pill form and will have the same potency,” Mr. Bachtell said. “And there are other forms of cannabis that won’t get you high.”