WILKES-BARRE — The city’s Zoning Hearing Board gave the go-ahead Wednesday for a medical marijuana dispensary to open up in a Kidder Street shopping plaza.
But it’s unclear when the place will begin operation. It depends on how long it takes marijuana growers and processors to get up and running.
In a 4-0 vote, the zoning board granted Columbia Care Pennsylvania LLC a special exception on the basis that the service the company provides is new to the state and not yet addressed in the city’s zoning ordinance.
“We’re the largest medical marijuana company in the country,” said Corey Fitze, Columbia Care’s director of government affairs. “We do not have any interest in and we do not participate in any recreational market.”
The company serves 35,000 patients a month nationwide and operates dispensaries in Manhattan, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Fitze said.
Columbia Care’s dispensary at 765 Kidder St. would be among the first in Pennsylvania since the state’s Medical Marijuana Act became law last year. Since then, the state Department of Health has taken steps to set up and regulate an industry to produce and dispense the medicines made from the chemical compounds of marijuana.
Columbia Care received one of the 27 permits issued by the department in June and is the second planned for Luzerne County. Justice Grown Pennsylvania LLC received approval to locate its dispensary in the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville. Meanwhile, a Carlisle-based company, the Keystone Center of Integrative Wellness LLC, applied for a permit for the site of a former silk mill in Wilkes-Barre but did not receive a permit.
The department also issued a grower/processor permit for Standard Farms LLC to establish its business in a vacant factory building in White Haven.
“We really pride ourselves on bringing a product to market. I want to be very clear, you are not smoking this,” Fitze stressed.
The medicines will be in the form of pills, oils and tinctures provided to patients who are issued a card from the state after it reviews recommendations from their doctors for treatment of serious medical conditions. Those include autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis and others specified in the law.
Columbia Care will spend between $800,000 to $1.1 million to build out the dispensary, with a large portion of the cost for security. The opening date is dependent upon the availability of medicines from the producers who have a six-month deadline to become operational upon receiving permits. To start, the Kidder Street dispensary will open two to three days a week. As the business grows, it could be open up to six days a week, with no Sunday hours. The operation will employ eight to 10 people full time and have a doctor on staff.
The company’s zoning application asked for a waiver on 10 parking spaces. Fitze explained that the patients will be in and out quickly.
“It’s much more like CVS than anything else. You’re there to pick up a prescription. You leave,” Fitze said.