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Medical Marijuana Company Prepares to Start Hiring in McKeesport

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
June 20, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Above: Pure Penn CEO Gabe Perlow and McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko (foreground) address members of the media at Tuesday's announcement at RIDC's industrial park on the former U.S. Steel National Works site. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac.)

Local residents will soon have a chance to apply for jobs at McKeesport's newest employer --- a facility that will grow and process medical marijuana.

Gabe Perlow, chief executive officer of PurePenn LLC, said Tuesday the company will announce a hiring fair "in about two weeks" now that it's been granted one of only two licenses in the Pittsburgh region to grow and process cannabis plants for treatment of chronic pain, glaucoma and other ailments.

The announcement will be posted on the company's Facebook page, he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Tuesday awarded 12 manufacturing licenses statewide after sorting through more than 500 applications. The other Pittsburgh-area license was awarded to a company in Carmichaels, Greene County, between Waynesburg and Uniontown.

Perlow, a Pittsburgh real estate developer, said Tuesday was a day to "celebrate the city of McKeesport."

"From a readiness standpoint, from a community engagement standpoint, the city of McKeesport has been behind us 100 percent and we really couldn't have done it without them," he said.

PurePenn will be hiring at first about 25 people, Perlow said, and will need skills ranging from horticulture and plant science to biology and organic chemistry.

The McKeesport facility will include a growing facility as well as a laboratory to extract the necessary chemicals from the plants and turn them into pharmaceutical products such as topicals, oils and medicines to be taken orally.

But, Perlow said, anyone with an interest in working in the field of medical marijuana should consider applying.

"We will need everyone, ranging from people with advanced degrees to beginners," he said. Jobs will range from highly scientific work to entry-level packaging and shipping personnel, Perlow said.

PurePenn is purchasing five acres in RIDC's Industrial Center of McKeesport on the former U.S. Steel National Works site and has an option to purchase an additional five acres, Perlow said. He declined to name the purchase price.

The buildings for PurePenn will be constructed in Nevada, where PurePenn is working with an already established medical cannabis company, Moxie Extracts. Perlow said PurePenn's products, when available, will be sold in Pennsylvania under the "Moxie" name.

However, because not all states have legalized cannabis for medicinal use, PurePenn will not be allowed to export products across state lines. "No interstate commerce is allowed," Perlow said.

PurePenn will be required to be ready for operation within six months, he said, and the company expects to meet that deadline. "We look forward to committing to, and following through with, what we said we would do in our application --- and bring the best possible products to the patients of Pennsylvania, so that they can get the kind of healing and well-being they deserve," Perlow said.

Along with the 12 winners, there are about 500 losers --- including Sewickley-based Laurel Green Medical LLC, which had hoped to open a facility in Braddock Borough. Laurel Green had star power --- former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris is chairman of its board of directors, and the company was enthusiastically embraced by Braddock officials, including Mayor John Fetterman.

Following Tuesday's announcement that PurePenn had been awarded a license by the state Department of Health, but Laurel Green had not been, Fetterman wished McKeesport well via Twitter.

McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko said Tuesday that the state's decision to award a license to PurePenn was a "great day for the city of McKeesport, and very exciting."

"As mayor, I've had the opportunity to have hundreds and hundreds of conversations with different groups of people," Cherepko said. Perlow's partners in PurePenn are "a very well-organixed team, a very professional team, and when it came time to put together the appication and the proposal, it was first-class, second to none."

Both Perlow and Cherepko acknowledged that some people are still resistant to the idea of bringing a medical marijuana facility into McKeesport. Perlow helped to staff a PurePenn table at McKeesport's annual Good Neighbor Day last week and said that while comments were "98 percent positive," a few people were hostile.

Cherepko said that before he learned about the uses of medicinal cannabis, and met with the PurePenn team, he might have been one of the skeptics.

"I am still against the use of recreational marijuana," Cherepko said. "But you really have to take some time to educate yourself on this issue."

Pharmaceuticals and therapeutic drugs derived from cannabis offer a chance to relieve serious "illnesses and disabilities," he said. "It's very rewarding to think that McKeesport is going to play a small part in that."

PurePenn hopes eventualy to have 75 to 100 employees working in McKeesport, but Perlow said the company's growth curve will be determined by the market for its products. PurePenn will not deal with the public directly, but will distribute its products through state-licensed dispensaries, accessible to people who have doctors' prescriptions for medical marijuana.

Cherepko noted that the RIDC industrial park has "room on this site to expand."

"Time will tell just how big it will be as far as its economic impact on the city," he said. "But when you hear some of the success stories, and think about how this will impact some of the lives of those who are struggling, whether it's from pain or whatever the case may be ... it's another way to help in the medical care of the residents of Pennsylvania, and it's very exciting to know that we will have a facility like this right here in the Mon Valley."

Originally published June 20, 2017.

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