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Township Offers Support For Marijuana Facility

Geoff Whaling explains plans Thursday for a medical marijuana facility proposed on Porter Road

SANATOGA PA – Lower Pottsgrove commissioners agreed Thursday night (Feb. 23, 2017) to support a local applicant’s bid to locate a medical marijuana growing and processing facility inside an underground Cold War-era concrete bunker on the west side of Porter Road. Its representatives’ claimed the business would “be absolutely the best and most secure” project of its kind in Pennsylvania and added that, if successful, they already have plans to expand the building over time across the 8-acre parcel there.

Not every decision-maker was convinced. Board of Commissioners Vice President Stephen Klotz was the sole dissenter in a 3-1 vote. He opposes marijuana use, he admitted, but added his opposition arose only from a lack of details about the firm’s plans for building security, fire safety, product transport, and other issues. Board President Bruce Foltz was absent and did not vote.

The property is and would continue to be owned by LPAL LP, a limited partnership involving Douglassville real estate developer Robert Basile, the board was told. The production facility itself would be operated by another firm, Bunker Botanicals LLC of Berks County, headed by Geoff Whaling. Whaling is a co-founder of Coalition for Access Now, a national non-profit medical marijuana advocacy group, and president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council.

Whaling described the proposed project as “100-percent owned and driven” by Pennsylvania residents, rather than outsiders. The company, which is vying for only a limited number of grow facility permits available in the state, acknowledged competition for those licenses is fierce. He said more than 900 firms are expected to seek state approval by a late March deadline. At start-up, Bunker Botanicals would employ six people, all of them trained professionals, Whaling said, with the potential for up to 15 later.

If approved the Lower Pottsgrove operation would organically grow between 10 and 15 different varieties of plants in the 1960s bunker built for what was then the Bell System to house intercontinental communications equipment. It is buried 23 feet underground, and at the time was planned to withstand a nuclear attack, Whaling noted. It has only one primary, double-door entrance that enhances its security but which township Fire Marshal Lew Babel, who was in the audience, indicated also carries fire exit risks.

Whaling suggested the least certain element of the project is the size of the market it and other approved processors might attract. Only patients who suffer from one or more maladies on a list of 17 state-designated illnesses would be able to purchase medical products made with “pharmaceutical-grade” cannabinoid-laced oil extracted from the plants. The products cannot be smoked; instead, the oil will be used to create pills, ointments, and tinctures for external and internal use.

Current estimates for the number of prospective qualified users in Pennsylvania range from 65,000 to about 120,000 people. However, the amount of product they can obtain monthly is restricted, all must receive a physician’s approval to use the medication, and some physicians either oppose medical marijuana or are unfamiliar with the relief it can afford patients who suffer from dementia, epilepsy, and other problems. “No one really knows what the market might be when we start,” Whaling said.

Commissioner Ray Lopez, who toured the bunker a day earlier, was impressed by both the project and the site. “This could be a real plus for Lower Pottsgrove,” he said, in bringing a high-end manufacturer and its accompanying tax revenue to the township, as well as cleaning up and securing “an attractive nuisance” that draws youths and vandals. “I look forward to the possibility,” Lopez said.

Related (to medical marijuana production proposals):

Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 23 meeting):

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