In response to the article in this publication on May 3 insinuating that medical marijuana is bad for neighborhoods and that politics play a role in the licensing process, we want to inform the public of the true award process and the benefits to communities.

Gov. Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act into Pennsylvania law in 2016. Regulations issued by The Department of Health (DOH) require dispensary applicants in Southeastern Pennsylvania to apply for three locations in distinct counties, one of which must include Philadelphia. TerraVida was one of a handful of applicants to receive by-right zoning in Philadelphia based on Philadelphia ordinance 160919 which was unanimously approved by City Council.

As mandated by law, TerraVida's building is in a commercial district; as dictated by city code juxtaposed against the city's zoning map, the location is proximal to residential neighborhoods. As responsible applicants, we will continue to listen, learn and do everything we can to serve the needs of our neighbors. Typical concerns we've heard include parking, traffic and security, for which we are confident our solutions exceed expectations.

Concerned neighbors have asked "Why Mount Airy? Why not your neighborhood?"

Our location was chosen to facilitate safe and secure patient access. Ask anyone who's actually read the rules; the city's zoning ordinance does not afford applicants many options. Mount Airy is ideal for a dispensary. It is a true melting-pot; diverse, tolerant, and deeply committed to community.

With regard to locating in my "own" neighborhood, this is the closest compliant building in Philadelphia to my residence. I have worked in East Mount Airy for four years. My husband grew up on Forrest Avenue, where our aunt lived until her recent death, and where our family still owns a business.

These facts beg the question why have we been targeted for our lack of diversity, and depicted unfairly as "outsiders."
The facts: TerraVida is majority woman owned and operated (minority business classification);
Our executive team and ownership is comprised of more than 50 percent minorities including local investors, pediatric medical advisor, dedicated director of community outreach, dedicated director of veterans services, and internist/oncology medical adviser. The township where our core operators live is 24 feet from East Mount Airy.

Gov. Wolf and the DOH have taken steps to ensure that there is zero political influence in the issuance of licenses. Licensing is in the hands of the DOH, which has effectively isolated itself from inappropriate communications from applicants and their representatives to ensure a fair, merit-based process.

Members of our team have relationships with elected officials. However, the nature of these relationships has been distorted by individuals whose motives are questionable at best. These relationships have never been used to gain advantage in the licensing process, obtaining zoning approval or winning a license. It's naïve and dangerous to suggest without a shred of proof that Philadelphia's zoning department or Pennsylvania's DOH can be influenced to break the law by two female small business owners and two state legislators, who have no power or authority in the medical marijuana program as suggested by our accusers.

Our team contacted numerous stakeholders to share our Community Impact Plan and to address concerns. The only elected official to ignore our attempts to schedule a meeting was the same elected official who now claims that she was caught off guard by our Mount Airy location. Instead of taking our meeting, she decided to challenge our zoning and host a community meeting to disparage us and tarnish our reputations.

We are committed to hire local residents and offer high paying jobs. Full-time employees will receive health benefits, profit sharing and 401(k) contributions. We have also committed to funding for community programs in need. Based on concerns about trash issues, we have requested estimates to maintain the surrounding area. TerraVida will make the neighborhood safer by employing an onsite security team, installing a commercial grade surveillance system and offering access to live and recorded video feeds to the police.

Chris Visco is President/COO of TerraVida Holistic Email