Medical marijuana plant may open in Avis

The one-time modular home plant in South Avis may become a growing/processing plant for medical cannabis in about two years’ time.

SOUTH AVIS — The former modular home plant here may become home to a new industry for Pennsylvania.

Christopher Woods, founder and owner of Terrapin Care Station, is already leasing 40,000 square feet in the newest section of the building, ready for a license from the state to produce medical marijuana.

Don’t dig out your T-shirt with a hemp leaf on it just yet — medical cannabis is not a recreational tool. The proposed facility would make pills and tinctures, not a product for smoking.

The operation would grow marijuana plants and process them into pills and liquids. Doctors can recommend their use for patients, and patients would have to visit a state-licensed dispensary to buy them.

Woods visited Lock Haven on Wednesday and spoke with media and community leaders in the Clinton County Economic Partnership offices about his plans for the facility.

“The local buy-in is very important to us,” he said. “My mantra is to do business in a community that wants to do business with us.”

There are several components to production, he explained — cultivation, extraction, packaging and logistics are some of them. Compliance with state regulations will be intensive, he said, and security is also a focus, with Terrapin using a “seed to sale” tracking system.

His proposed South Avis facility would employ between 30 and 50 people at an average salary of $40,000. Some people will make six figures, he said, and some will make less than $40,000. Both skilled and unskilled labor will be needed, and all will have benefits including a 401(k) plan, health insurance and paid vacation.

The facility won’t be open for two years or so, at the earliest, because Terrapin must wait for a license. But the company is poised to move fast should the license comes through.

The number of licenses in the state is relatively low, with only 25 to be issued to grower/processors and 50 to dispensaries. Although a dispensary license would authorize up to three locations, a grower/processor license would authorize only one facility, Woods said.

The former home manufacturing plant has what Woods wants, he said, pointing to the fact that it is “utility rich.”

Terrapin began leasing a portion of the plant about a month ago from Lee Roberts and Jay Alexander, doing business as Henry Street Properties.

The next step is the license application which is due in January. The company is already making plans and setting up supply chains, Woods said.

Licenses should be awarded by the end of 2017, if all goes well. Terrapin could then refurbish the South Avis space, installing a climate control system and adding to the electrical capacity.

The plant could open by the end of 2018.

Woods grew up in Bucks County and earned a bachelor of science degree in bioengineering from Penn State. He earned a master of science in applied math from the University of Colorado at Boulder and has been able to bring all his skills to bear in this new industry.

He knows how the decline of the steel industry affected Pennsylvanians and is glad to see some revitalization happening. The medical marijuana industry could be a part of that.

He has increased his company’s revenues by 2,000 percent since it was founded in 2010, according to a Terrapin press packet, and was one of the founders of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“We hope Clinton County can benefit economically,” he said.

Terrapin will likely have lots of competition for one of the 25 licenses — Maryland offered fewer licenses and received a thousand applications for them — but Terrapin has a good reputation as a clean company with a proven track record in Colorado where it is not only a leader but also one of the largest companies in the field.

“The fact that this community has a company of this size looking at it is exciting,” said Michael Bronstein of Bronstein & Weaver Inc., a political strategy and media company in Bryn Mawr.

Bronstein accompanied Woods to Lock Haven to meet local movers and shakers.

He also talked about the political movement to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

When this state adopted its medical marijuana law, he said, the treatment option was already legal in half the nation. Pennsylvania researched the subject thoroughly and was able to avoid pitfalls other states have encountered, he said.

Pennsylvania is the first state to list autism as one of the disorders, conditions and diseases that medical cannabis may be used to treat. The list also includes post traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other serious conditions.

“It’s about patient access,” Woods said. “I commend my home state for being progressive about who they are offering this to.”

The product can benefit people with a wide range of maladies, Woods said, so he believes there will be sufficient demand.

Bronstein said people who use medical marijuana are usually very ill, and some of the patients who advocated for it in Pennsylvania died before the bill was passed. The advocacy was largely patient-driven, he said, and it was sad when some of the grass-roots voices went silent.

Medical marijuana became legal in the commonwealth this April, he said, and now Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration wants to move quickly to make the treatment option available to Pennsylvanians.

The state has also done clinical research on the effects of medical marijuana and how it can be used better, Woods said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has been a good partner in opening the door, Bronstein said. Terrapin would like to enter through that door and become an upstanding member of the local community.

“We are good stewards and good neighbors,” he said.

Terrapin states its core values are patient access, being a paragon of compliance, and being a partner in the community. It has given more than $50,000 to nonprofit organizations in Boulder, Colo. alone.

Woods and Bornstein are hopeful and confident Terrapin will receive a license. The company has the expertise and experience to file award-winning applications and run a successful operation in Pennsylvania’s new, highly regulated market.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we had a good opportunity,” Woods said.

The funding is already in place to open a facility here, he said. Licenses were awarded in Massachusetts and Maryland to companies that did not have their financing in place, but Terrapin is ready to go.

Woods owns and controls 100 percent of Terrapin’s operations in Colorado and Oregon. For this project he is bringing in investment money. This is the first time Terrapin has had a public offering, he said, and the offering memorandum is already filled.

Terrapin has four cultivation facilities in Colorado and is expanding into Eugene, Ore. where it is retrofitting a property.

Woods said he can appreciate the real estate component of the business because his father was a developer.

He entered the industry because it offered an opportunity to build something from the ground up, to use mathematics in strategic business planning, and to get hands-on and use his engineering aptitude as well, he said.

The company has about 125 employees in Colorado, and Woods finds it gratifying to “be able to employ people… to support a Terrapin family.”

He is also interested in creating positive change in the communities where Terrapin operates.

“That’s what keeps me going,” he said.

The Clinton County community has embraced his proposal so far. Once the product is explained, everyone looks on it favorably, said Michael Flanagan, Economic Partnership president and CEO.

Woods has met with property owners Roberts and Alexander, with state Rep. Mike Hanna and others, and believes Clinton County could benefit from one of his facilities.

“I like to do business with good people,” he said, “and I get the sense there are good people in this town.”