Above: Gabe Perlow, CEO of PurePenn, gives an interview to a reporter during a celebration July 24 in McKeesport. (Lynne Glover photo)
You could say that PurePenn is on a roll. The McKeesport-based medical marijuana grower plans to expand its facility by 40 percent and increase its employee count from 26 to 50.
In fact, the company's growth trajectory is ahead of schedule by almost two years, according to CEO Gabe Perlow. Still to come is a $1 million investment that will include an addition of a greenhouse and will allow PurePenn to double its growing space for the "Moxie by PurePenn" brand of medical marijuana extracts.
“The industry has grown much faster than we anticipated,” Perlow said.
While the company is smoking hot from a business perspective, a memo issued in January by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may seemingly be a buzz kill. It directs all U.S. Attorneys to “enforce the laws enacted when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities.”
But the industry—and Perlow—are undaunted.
Perlow said that the federal directive is geared toward the likes of drug cartels and illegal operators, and he doesn't think it will affect PurePenn's work. “We are in a limited-license, highly regulated state,” Perlow said.
PurePenn celebrated its one-year anniversary of its groundbreaking on July 24 with a state-of-the-company address by Perlow, along with guest speakers representing elected officials as well as a medical marijuana advocate.
Local officials who spoke at PurePenn’s event included state Rep. Austin Davis, state Sen. Jim Brewster and McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko.
Exemplifying Pennsylvania’s tough regulations, tours of PurePenn’s facility could not be given during the celebratory event, Perlow said, because state laws prohibit the practice in medical marijuana facilities.
Still, the Pennsylvania Department of Health in late July issued permits to three more companies in southwestern Pennsylvania, giving them the state’s right to grow and process medical marijuana.
Perlow said he welcomes the competition. “We believe strongly in the quality and superiority of our product ... Our hope is that as more patients experienced marijuana’s medical benefits, we will get better at educating people and better at breaking down the myths and misinformation that surround cannabis.”
Perlow said it was the state’s commitment to give more treatment options to patients by allowing marijuana to be sold in dry leaf form that energized the company’s growth.
Now, in addition to producing pharmaceutical-grade capsules, ointments, tinctures and oils that patients can buy at licensed dispensaries, PurePenn’s facility expansion will allow for the production of the “dry flower” option for patients. (The dry leaf or flower option is meant to be vaporized, as smoking medical marijuana is still not legally permissible in Pennsylvania.)
Advocates of medical marijuana say it has the ability to relieve chronic pain, but is safer than opiates. Some users also say medical marijuana has benefits to people living with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, glaucoma and other conditions, or who are losing weight due to chemotherapy.
There’s currently no medical marijuana research occurring at Allegheny Health Network, UPMC or the University of Pittsburgh.
Pitt and UPMC spokesman Arvind Suresh noted that the “new law permitting research are still being worked out.” In May, however, Governor Tom Wolf named the University of Pittsburgh Medical School among eight Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program.
At the July 24 event, Brewster noted that, not only is PurePenn’s product helping people, it is helping the McKeesport community and the Mon Valley.
“Everything doesn’t have to happen in Pittsburgh,” Brewster said. “This is our opportunity to shine and our opportunity to help our fellow man.”
To that end, PurePenn used the event to tout a $50,000 donation to the McKeesport Community Fund, established in 2017 to benefit local residents.
This follows a $50,000 donation PurePenn already made to the fund that has helped send children to summer camp and pay for Wi-Fi devices at the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, among other initiatives.
“In the spirit of Fred Rogers, we want to be a good neighbor,” Perlow said.
Lynne Glover is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published August 07, 2018.