Former Wolf partner seeks marijuana facility in York County

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | Jan 18, 2017 1:58 PM

Land to the rear of 6287 Lincoln Highway, Hellam Township Wednesday with Blessing Road to the left.(Photo: Paul Kuehnel, York Daily Record)

The governor's former business partner and cousin by marriage, George Hodges, has launched a medical marijuana corporation.

(York) -- Less than a year after Gov. Tom Wolf legalized medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, his former business partner hopes to jump into the competitive fledgling industry.

A company called Viridis Medicine, LLC last week filed for a conditional use permit to build a medical marijuana manufacturing center at 6287 Lincoln Highway, Hellam Township. The company wants to subdivide the property, which includes fabrication company SWF Industrial, and construct a 50,000 square-foot building that would be used to grow and process marijuana, township zoning officer Rachel Vega said.

Viridis Medicine, created Dec. 22, 2016, is registered with the state of Pennsylvania to George Hodges, Wolf's cousin by marriage. Hodges, along with Wolf and another cousin, Bill Zimmerman, bought the Wolf Organization in 1986 and ran it as partners.

Viridis will face stiff competition for the coveted licenses in the new industry. The state expects about 900 applicants, who will compete for a total of 12 marijuana processing facility permits and 27 primary dispensing facilities, said April Hutcheson, state Department of Health spokeswoman. Those permits will be spread out across six regions. York County is part of a 13-county region that is eligible for a total of two "grower/ processor" permits and four primary dispensary permits.

It's also not cheap. Grower/processor permit applicants must pay a $10,000 nonrefundable fee and provide a $200,000 check that the state will cash if it approves the application, Hutcheson said. Applicants must show that they have at least $2 million in capital, including $500,000 in liquid assets. The companies must also meet many other non-monetary requirements.

"There are very strict guidelines in place because we want to make sure this is a safe and legal process to get medication to people," Hutcheson said.

Viridis isn't the only company vying for the coveted permits in the region. Keith and Cathy Shaffer sought a zoning permit to open a growing/processing facility in Windsor Township. They were turned down, but have said they plan to seek another location.

Though Hodges has close ties to the governor, he said he's competing for the permits on the same field as everyone else. "I've never discussed it with the governor," Hodges said. "And the distance of my relationship is properly covered under the stated regulations."

His group of investors has decided that this is a worthwhile cause in treating diseases for which other remedies are not available, Hodges said. It also makes good business sense to get into a new industry early, though it also has challenges.

If the facility is built, it should bring as many as 40 jobs to Hellam Township, said Daniel Kearns, a consultant for Viridis. Those jobs will include everything from security guards to laboratory scientists who will grow the marijuana and convert it into the pills, tinctures and other products that are sold to the dispensaries.

The facility could also add revenue in the form of a 5 percent wholesale tax on medical marijuana that is returned to the township to support the local schools and police, Vega said. However, she said the details are still a bit unclear on how the township would get those recouped funds. "This township does not have a mercantile tax, so we don't get to collect in that way."

Viridis also faces a more immediate challenge -- getting permission from Hellam Township. The township planning commission has recommended that its board of supervisors approve the permit to build the facility, Vega said. The board of supervisors will vote on the issue at a meeting, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m.

If Viridis Medicine gets township approval, there are still many steps -- including getting the state permit -- that will have to happen before construction begins, Hodges said.

"You have to have a lot of things in place so that you have a lot of things ready on a contingent process," Hodges said. "It's a delicate and challenging process."

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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