Dairy and produce farms dot Lawrence County’s countryside, but one recently incorporated sect doesn’t need acreage to thrive but rather square footage and grow lights.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed medical marijuana into law in April 2016, resulting in the opening of more than 100 dispensaries and 22 grow facilities statewide.
As a part of the every-growing industry, New Castle gained both a grow facility — Holistic Farms in 2019 – and a dispensary — Ayr Wellness in 2020.
Rabbi James Kahn, director of outreach for Holistic Industries, believes their 115,000 square-foot Industrial Street facility contributes to Lawrence County’s growing agriculture industry.
“We are continuously working to improve the building and stay involved in the local community,” he said.
Holistic Farms began its full license pursuit in Summer 2016, Josh Genderson, chief executive officer of Holistic Industries, indicated in 2019. By June, Holistic scored the highest points in the northwest region granting them a medical grow license.
“We want to provide jobs where jobs are needed,” Genderson said, about why they chose New Castle. “We were looking for a community that we could impact. We found that New Castle to be supportive of our efforts. They were true believers in cannabis as medicine.”
Holistic began to search for locations in both the southeast and northwest regions to find suitable communities for their business.
After the site was acquired from Bill Sanner and Industrial Property Management Inc. for $550,000, Holistic spent millions to fix up the former Snark Boats building and construction continues for more grow rooms causing production to increase and the hiring of more employees.
“We needed to essentially gut the building,” said Genderson. “We needed to bring power into the building. We have to have the proper lighting. You’re essentially recreating an ecosystem inside.”
New Castle Mayor Chris Frye disclosed the property was previously listed as uninhabitable by Lawrence County.
In the event recreational use becomes legal, Kahn said Holistic would be interested into getting into growing recreational plants. He added their current location would be enough space, however, more employees would need to be hired.
Holistic is invested in the local communities in which they operate, Kahn said, including community beautification projects like Liberty Cannabis Cares Clean Up Day last July 2020, food and clothing drives and volunteering with the City Rescue Mission to deliver Meals on Wheels.
Holistic contributed to the pursuit to reduce blight in the city’s neighborhoods by donating $50,000 in early 2021 to the Citywide Development Corporation for a project to help low-income homeowners maintain or fix safety or blight-related issues.
In response to COVID-19 last year, Holistic also donated 1,000 KN95 masks to support first responders and volunteers for local meal delivery programs. It also donated hand sanitizer and additional personal protective equipment at Frye’s request.
The Department of Health announced in August 2019 Harvest of Northwest PA, LLC in New Castle relinquished its medical marijuana dispensary permits earmarked for a Sampson Street shop issued to them as part of a settlement with the department.
Over a year later in December, Ayr Wellness took up residency in its place by partnering with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) for medical research.
“Our goal is to have a broad footprint throughout the state and target underserved communities,” said Julie Winter, director of operations for Ayr Wellness. “We search for centralized locations with easy access from multiple surrounding towns and multiple public transportation options.”
The partnership aims to promote high-quality research and continue to advance treatments for qualified patients who suffer from debilitating medical issues.
“We chose New Castle because it is centrally located within Lawrence County, which is the commercial center of a predominantly agricultural region. It is the largest municipality in the county, home to 23K residents. It is also an Act 47 Financially Distressed municipality.
“We were very hopeful about having the opportunity to bring a new industry and new jobs to this area.”
Ayr brought over 40 unionized jobs to the state and expect to double that by later this year with the expansion and scaling of its cultivation and manufacturing site as well as opening of four additional dispensaries.
Legalization has come to the forefront of many discussions, Winter said, given the recent presidential election and the potential for job creation in the wake of the pandemic.
“We believe that legalization increases access to the benefits of cannabis, as well as the importance of social equity and job creation in the communities we serve, so in short, yes, we are all for it,” she said.
In early February, Wolf outlined his goals for this year including tax cuts for working class families, increasing minimum wage and legalizing adult-use marijuana.
With neighboring states like New Jersey permitting legal recreational use, he said, “Pennsylvania cannot afford to be left behind.”
In late February, state Sen. Dan Laughlin became the first Republican in the Senate to sign on as lead sponsor of legislation that would legalize adult use of marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Bills to legalize marijuana use have repeatedly been introduced in the General Assembly, but Republicans, who control both chambers, have blocked the measures. At a recent budget hearing, the Independent Fiscal Office indicated that legalizing marijuana sales could generate between $400 million and $1 billion in revenue, Laughlin said.
Adult use of recreational marijuana is now legal in 15 states.
The medical bill sites 23 ailments that can use the medical marijuana which include cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
The use of pills, gels, vapor and more recently vaporized dry leaf became available for sale in 2018.