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Berks medical marijuana facility breaks ground

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Sharon Ali (second from left), CEO of Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania, and others participate in this morning's ceremonial groundbreaking in South Heidelberg Township.
Sharon Ali (second from left), CEO of Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania, and others participate in this morning's ceremonial groundbreaking in South Heidelberg Township.

Construction of one of Berks County's two medical marijuana growing and processing facilities officially started this morning at a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania LLC and South Heidelberg Township leaders.

In the initial development phase, Prime Wellness will build a $5 million, 30,000-square-foot facility on an undeveloped parcel at 2 Corporate Blvd. in the South Heidelberg Industrial Park.

A 25,000-square-foot greenhouse is planned for the second phase, for a total of 55,000 square feet. The facility will be used to cultivate, process and package medical marijuana.

About 30 people are expected to be hired this year. About 100 varieties of marijuana will be grown, said James Dougherty, counsel for Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania.

Prime Wellness officials said they intend to be operational before the state’s Dec. 20 deadline. They said they paid $525,000 for the eight-acre property.

The facility has cleared a number of requirements, such as getting approval from the Berks County Conservation District and South Heidelberg Township supervisors.

Prime Wellness will donate $50,000 a year to the township over several years, said Tom Byrne, chairman of the board of supervisors.

“We’re thrilled to have them here,” Byrne said. “They came and educated us on their product and how it could help people. The process has been very transparent.”

Byrne said the township has a long history centered on health and healing. Beginning in the late 1800s, the area was host to five or six resorts that catered to those looking for fresh air and water – away from city life or to treat their illnesses.

Prime Wellness is backed by High Street Capital Partners of New York, a private equity firm that is one of the country’s largest medical marijuana providers, with investments in projects in 14 states, and HCL MM Investments PA LLC.

H. Chase Lenfest, son of Gerry Lenfest – the former owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News –is the managing member of HCL MM Investments PA LLC.

Berks is home to two of the 12 companies that were awarded coveted growing and processing permits in June by the state Department of Health.

The other permit was awarded to Franklin Labs LLC, which plans to open its facility at 1800 Center Ave., the former Pepsi distribution center in Reading, and employ about 30 people. Franklin Labs operates a growing facility and dispensary in Woodbridge, N.J., called Garden State Dispensary.

Two grower/processor permits were awarded in each of six regions in the state. Berks is part of the southeast region, which also includes Bucks, Montgomery, Schuylkill, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster and Philadelphia counties.

Berks will also have two of the 27 medical marijuana dispensary permits that were awarded: Harvest Inc. and FranklinBioScience-Penn LLC, which until this week, were both going to be less than a mile apart on North Fifth Street Highway in Muhlenberg Township.

FranklinBioScience successfully won an appeal from the state to relocate its dispensary after it objected to a host fee the township plans to impose.

Sales of medical marijuana are expected to begin early next year.

Growers will be permitted to sell to any of the state’s dispensaries.

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