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York Dispatch: Well-known Yorkers seek medical marijuana permits

By David Weissman and Jason Addy 

A group including several well-known Yorkers has formed a benefit corporation seeking permits to open a medical marijuana growing and processing facility in York City and three dispensaries in York County.

Five-Leaf Remedies Inc. incorporated in late 2016 and is based at 135 N. George St. in York City, according to the Department of State records. The proposed growing and processing operation in York City would be located at 213 E. Poplar St., according to the corporation's website. 

Among those involved, listed on the website, are local architect Frank Dittenhafer; Robin Rohrbaugh, president and CEO of the Community Progress Council; Bobby Simpson, CEO of the Crispus Attucks Association of York; and Janel Sacarellos, who, along with her husband, Themi Sacarellos, owns Round the Clock Diner, among other businesses.

The investors incorporated as a benefit corporation, which is a for-profit company that structures nonprofit giving into its bylaws. Five-Leaf Remedies intends to make donations to “nonprofits representing patients and our neighborhood.”

The website describes the company as a “business created by the community, for the community.”

Christina Kauffman, spokeswoman for Five-Leaf Remedies, said the group came together because, with a couple of exceptions, they are all civic-minded people living in York County. Kauffman, a former York Dispatch editor, also pointed out a strong diversity among investors, who include leaders in the local Hispanic and African-American communities.

The Poplar Street location was purposely selected, Kauffman said, because it would allow the company to raise property values and improve the security and safety of a blighted area. Investors plan to spend more than $2.4 million to renovate the 35,000-square-foot facility, which Kauffman said currently serves as an underutilized warehouse.

Reaction: Carole Ziler, who lives less than a block away on South Pine Street, received a flier from Five-Leaf on Monday that spells out the company’s proposal. In the flier, the company says it wants to convert the former tobacco warehouse on Poplar Street in order to revitalize a vacant property and contribute to the city’s tax base.

Ziler, 30, said she would support a marijuana growing and processing facility opening in York City, but she does not feel her neighborhood is the right area.

A marijuana facility on Poplar Street would cause more violent crime in an area that already sees its share of shootings, Ziler said, asking what the York City Police Department would do to ensure crime doesn’t increase.

“I’m afraid it’s going to cause more harm than good,” Ziler said.

Ed Davidson, who lives about 25 feet away from the proposed site, said he does not agree with the company’s assessment that the facility would improve its neighborhood.

“It’s not going to improve the neighborhood,” Davidson said. “It’s only going to make it worse.”

If Five-Leaf’s proposal is approved by the city, Davidson, 59, said he would make it clear to the York City Council that they “are morons for even thinking about it.”

“It won’t go through,” Davidson said. “Not if we have anything to do with it.”

York City Councilwoman Renee Nelson said the city has yet to receive any official applications for a marijuana growing and processing facility inside the city’s limits, though she is aware of interest from several potential growers.

Nelson said she was not against a facility opening in the city, as it could present an economic opportunity, but she does have some concerns over security at any potential site.

Council President Michael Helfrich said he was made aware of Five-Leaf’s intentions to open the facility on Poplar Street after he was contacted by a resident in the neighborhood looking for more information.

Helfrich said he contacted Five-Leaf and had seen the flier the company distributed but was unable to provide further details about the proposal.

In order to vote in support of any marijuana growing and processing facility, Helfrich said he would make sure the facility was approved by the state and that York City taxpayers would not be liable for any repercussions for approving an action that is still restricted by federal law.

While he supports medical marijuana, Helfrich said he would look to require the maximum level of security possible at the facility so it does not become a target for criminal activity.

“I’m certainly not against medicinal uses of marijuana. It’s been proven at this point,” Helfrich said. “It’s saving children’s lives where the chemical medicines are not. The proof is there. My issue is that (the facility) doesn’t entice, encourage or increase criminal activity in that neighborhood.”

Helfrich said Five-Leaf was the second company he knows of that is trying to open a marijuana facility in the city, though Five-Leaf is further along in the process.

Councilman Henry Nixon said he was “not at all opposed” to a marijuana growing and processing facility operating in York City, citing the tax opportunities it could present for the city.

“If there is a facility large enough for a marijuana growing facility, I’d love the tax money,” Nixon said.

With three council members at least tentatively open to a York City marijuana facility, proposals for any potential site are bound to get consideration from the five-person board.

But before any company’s proposal reaches the council, it must first go through the city’s zoning hearing board, Helfrich said.

Application process: The property is valued about $112,000, according to York County assessment records. It is zoned industrial, and Kauffman said the corporation recently filed for a special exception with the York City Bureau of Permits, Planning and Zoning.

Five-Leaf’s website is asking the community to support its efforts by attending a March 13 York City Planning Commission meeting and a March 16 Zoning Hearing Board meeting. Both will be held at 6:30 p.m. at York City Hall, 101 S. George St.

Five-Leaf Remedies is among numerous groups in York County seeking one of a very limited number of state-issued medical marijuana permits.

Hellam Township officials recently voted to approve Viridis Medicine LLC's proposal to build a grower/processor facility at 6287 Lincoln Highway.

The state Department of Health announced in December that it would grant up to two grower/processor permits in each of six regions throughout the state and up to 27 dispensary permits.

York County is located in a 13-county region, which will be allocated up to four dispensary permits, one of which has been earmarked for York County.

Grower/processor applications must include a $10,000 nonrefundable application fee and a $200,000 permit fee, which would be returned if the applicant was not awarded a permit.

Department officials have stated that they are anticipating about 900 applications, which must be submitted between Feb. 20 and March 20.

Kauffman declined to comment on whether her corporation would continue to seek a permit in the future if it is not approved during the first round of state issuances.

Kauffman also declined to say how many jobs Five-Leaf Remedies would create or specifics regarding security, though she did point out that Jonathan Spanos, former director of the state Office of Homeland Security, will lead security and surveillance efforts.

“Five-Leaf Remedies' top priority is to serve patients suffering from the 17 conditions outlined in Pennsylvania medical cannabis legislation, with a goal of developing solutions specifically tailored to the needs of the York community,” the website states.

Christina Kauffman