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Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana has many restrictions for users. Sean Heisey, York Daily Record

Companies have contacted area townships looking to open medical marijuana-related businesses.

Companies hoping to cash in on Pennsylvania’s budding medical marijuana industry have set their sights on York County.

At least six groups have called Springettsbury Township in the past month to ask about zoning for medical marijuana-related properties, said Jessica Fieldhouse, the township’s director of community development. Other townships have reported similar interest.

The timing is no accident: Two weeks ago Pennsylvania published its application for those who hope to grow and distribute medical marijuana. The state will accept applications from Feb. 20 to March 20. It expects about 900 applicants to compete for a total of 12 marijuana processing facility permits and 27 primary dispensing facilities.

York is part of a 13-county region that is eligible for two “grower/ processor” permits and four primary dispensary permits. Adams, Franklin, Fulton, Lebanon, Dauphin and Perry are among the other counties in this region.

READ: Hellam marijuana facility proposed by former Wolf partner

With so few permits available, aspiring growers are rushing to secure “interim leases” that will help to give them an edge over competitors, said Robin Zellers, who has been working with several interested groups.

“It’s advantageous for the applicants to have secured a site, whether they have purchased that site or whether they have a lease available,” Zellers said.

Zellers — the president of a Dauphin County-based real estate firm called NAI-CIR — said his clients are scouring the state for ideal locations.

Some of those clients, which Zellers declined to name, come from as far away as Colorado and California.

“There’s a lot of activity from strong operators that are functioning now in other states,” Zellers said.

At least one startup, Viridis Medicine, has York County ties, with a group of investors that includes former Wolf Organization chairman George Hodges. Viridis has applied for a permit to grow marijuana in Hellam Township.

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VIridis is also one of several companies that looked at Springettsbury Township for a dispensary location, Fieldhouse said.

The township hasn’t granted any permits yet, and still has to decide how to classify the unprecedented business.

“From a land-use approvals process, there’s no clear guidance,” Fieldhouse said. The dispensaries would be zoned as retail. However, the facilities will both grow marijuana and convert the plant material into products such as oils and pills.

READ: Medical Marijuana: Expecting big crowd, Hellam moves meeting

York city has received about six inquiries as well, said Shilvosky Buffaloe, the city’s interim director of economic & community development. The city had received no official applications as of Tuesday. If it does, the city plans to treat medical marijuana businesses “as any other business.”

“We’ve treated it pretty benignly,” Buffaloe said. “I’m agnostic about it. I’d treat it the same as if it were a stationery store.”

West Manchester Township has received calls from three companies, including Viridis, said township zoning officer Monica Love. There, the township has determined that any proposed medical marijuana business would have to apply with the zoning hearing board.

“We would have some concerns, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable,” Love said.

Ensuring security and a stable business environment are some concerns companies should have in Pennsylvania, said Marc Harvill, senior consultant at a Denver-based cannabis industry consulting group called Medicine Man Technologies.

“There’s going to be a lot of unknowns,” said Harvill, who has done consulting work for about 12 Pennsylvania-based startups. “A lot will depend on the patient registry program and the protections for doctors who write the prescriptions.”

The steep cost to apply for a permit signals that Pennsylvania hopes to strongly regulate the industry, Harvill said.

“They’re sending a message that they don’t want those little basement or garage growers coming up,” Harvill said. “They want significant players with significant capital.”

Just how much? Applicants must pay a $10,000 nonrefundable fee, provide a $200,000 check that the state will cash if it approves the application, and must show that they have at least $2 million in capital, including $500,000 in liquid assets, the state has said.

From there it’s hard to say what will happen once the state grants the permits, Harvill said. Culturally, the eastern U.S. has been more “conservative and careful’ with its approach to marijuana than the West Coast or Colorado. “They want to make sure they have all their controls in place.”

READ: Residents fear ‘urban sprawl’ in Hellam

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