HARRISBURG — Hundreds of applicants have asked for licenses to grow or sell medical marijuana in Pennsylvania -- including dozens in the state's southeastern corner -- but officials on Wednesday said they would not disclose the locations of any proposed facilities.
In their first accounting of the flood of applications, Health Department officials said they received more than 500 packages by the March 20 submission deadline, and have sifted through 258 applications. Among those were 31 applications to grow and process medical marijuana in Philadelphia or its suburbs, and 61 to dispense the drug in an eight-county region including the city.
But unlike when gambling license applications were under review a decade ago under Gov. Ed Rendell, officials said the Wolf administration would not release the names of the people applying or the locations where they want to grow or sell the drug.
Health Secretary Karen Murphy said addresses would be made public only after permits were awarded, which officials were hoping would be by the end of June. The administration will give out 12 grower licenses — two in Southeastern Pennsylvania — and 27 permits that would allow up to 81 dispensaries, where prescriptions could be filled, across the state.
Health Department leaders said the office was going through each envelope and box, logging the paperwork and sending the contents to a panel of experts reviewing and scoring each bid. They declined to say who was on the panel or how big it was. Officials said they would release the remaining list of applicant companies in four to six weeks.
The department on Wednesday disseminated a two-column, six-page table listing only corporate entity names of applicants and in which of the six regions they hoped to operate. Asked why the administration was withholding locations, Murphy said such disclosure would be premature.
"That's important information to provide on those that are granted permits," she said at a news conference. "People need to know where the applicants are going to operate their businesses. But at this point … [the] information that we have provided is adequate."
Adding a column to the chart with addresses "would be time-consuming and would take away from the necessary efforts that we have underway to give medical marijuana to patients in as short a time as possible," said John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana.
The department also has no "searchable database," he said. "The community that wants to learn more about what their local municipality has granted from a zoning perspective needs to check in with their local municipality."
Under the law passed last year by the Republican-controlled legislature and enacted by Democratic Gov. Wolf, municipalities were not required to be notified of proposed sites or hold public meetings. It was up to prospective operators, in their applications with the state, to produce evidence that the property where they hoped to grow or sell the drug complied with local zoning codes.
The size of the applicant pool roughly matched the anticipated frenzied interest in getting in on the ground floor of the potentially lucrative medical marijuana industry, which some advocates hope will be the first step toward broader legalization. Officials had expected to receive up to 900 applications.
Of the 258 applications logged so far, 132 are for grower/processor permits and 126 for dispensary permits.
Despite the fact that hundreds of potential applications remain unopened — and that 28 were thought to be missing before being found within the Department of Health offices -- officials said they were on track to award permits by June and have the program up and running in 2017. The timeline, Murphy said, "is still achievable."
The state has been moving swiftly to implement the law since it was passed last spring. The law aims to supply cannabis to seriously ill patients who have any one of 17 qualifying ailments.
Medical marijuana already is legal in some other states, including New Jersey. Pennsylvania's law prohibits the drug from being made available in dry leaf or plant form — only extracts will be sold in pill, oil, gel, vapor or liquid forms.
The permit applications that are pending represent just the first phase of the bidding process. The state also is preparing to offer clinical registrant licenses, which would attach medical marijuana to existing hospitals that also serve as academic medical institutions.
That credential would allow eight academic medical centers to select investor partners to establish research, growing, and dispensary networks of their own. Health systems have been soliciting potential suitors for months.
Additionally, the state has not yet credentialed doctors to participate in the program.
The applicants for growing operations in the southeastern region, which includes Philadelphia, include:
Clean Cannbis LLC
Kind Medicinal Curatives
KWT Industrial Growth
Lancaster Wellness Consultants
LiveFree PA Partners
National Holistic Healing
PA Health and Wellness
Provident Green (Pennstar)
Sage Biotech PA
Snider Health, Lindy Snider
The Sentel Group
Applicants for dispensaries in Southeastern Pennsylvania include:
BHS Wellness LLC
Black Lab Botanicals (2 applications)
Clean Green (Kyu Young LLC)
Elemental Health Group
Elemental Health Group - Port Richmond Dispensary
Happy Wellness LLC
Healing Hands Apothecary
Herbal Life LLC (Vita Verde)
Holistic Pharma (4 applications)
Keystone Dispensaries / Chamounix Ventures
Lancaster Wellness Consultants
Leaf Relief (2 applications)
LiveFree PA Partners
Mary Jane's Closet
National Holistic Healing Center
Nature's Care and Wellness of PA
Northeast Compassionate Care
Pa Health Concepts
PharmaCann Penn (2 applications)
Prime Wellness of PA
RAMS MM Dispensary
Revival Wellness Center
Revolution Medical Services
Snider Health (2 applications)
Terra Vida Holistic Centers (3 applications)
The Natural Dispensary