A medical marijuana dispensary that had been targeted for New Castle will not open.
The Department of Health announced Friday that Harvest of Northwest PA, LLC in New Castle and Harvest of North Central PA, LLC in Shamokin have relinquished the medical marijuana dispensary permits issued to them as part of a settlement with the department.
According to a department news release, the department granted dispensary permits on Dec. 18 to six distinct Harvest entities. However, the the fact that each used some form of the Harvest name, coupled with public statements made by an affiliate company, Harvest Health and Recreation, Inc., gave the public appearance that all permittees were in fact one single entity holding more than the five permits per person allowed by statute, according to the department.
Additionally, during the construction of these dispensaries, the department learned that the Harvest entities had utilized construction contractors not identified in the permit applications without notifying the department or seeking approval for the substitution, which is a regulatory requirement.
“Our medical marijuana program has been successful in its focus to provide evidence-based, quality options for patients suffering from serious medical conditions,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “In order to ensure that this program is successful, we have a statute and regulations in place for those companies looking to hold permits as either grower/processors or dispensaries.
“Companies interested in being part of this program must be aware of the law and abide by it.”
Rather than continuing to engage in legal action, which the department said would delay patient access to medication for those suffering with any of 23 serious medical conditions, a settlement was reached between both parties. This settlement allows Harvest to move forward with opening dispensaries in Johnstown, Harrisburg, Reading and Scranton.
These locations will be in addition to SMPB Retail, LLC doing business as Harvest of Reading; a Phase I dispensary that is already operational.
In a news release posted on businesswire.com, Harvest wrote that "Rather than engaging in a lengthy legal dispute that would involve all of the Harvest Entities, our affiliate companies, Harvest of Northwest PA, LLC and Harvest of North Central PA, LLC, ultimately determined that not pursuing the permits granted to them would be the best way to ensure that the remaining Harvest affiliate companies get their dispensaries in Pennsylvania operational to serve as many patients as quickly as possible. Consequently, our affiliates will not be opening dispensaries in New Castle and Shamokin where 18 employees will be affected."
Harvest noted that the employees who had been scheduled to work at the two dispensaries already had completed their required training, and that Harvest will provide them "with company-paid services to help them find other employment, which includes a severance payment, resume reviews and access to transition and recruiting agencies."
According to the settlement agreement, Harvest will not retain the permits for the New Castle and Shamokin sites, and the Department of Health has 30 days to return to Harvest the fees of $30,000 it paid for each of the permits.
Neither the settlement agreement released by the Department of Health nor the Harvest online statement indicate how the New Castle and Shamokin permits were chosen to be the ones relinquished. A Department of Health spokesperson said Friday he could not comment beyond what is contained in the agreement. Moreover, the settlement agreement states that "The Parties expressly agree to decline comment on any aspect of this Settlement Agreement to any member of the news media."
There are close to 121,000 active patient certifications as part of the medical marijuana program. More than 1,650 physicians have registered for the program, more than 1,190 of whom have been approved as practitioners.