Lindy Snider is embracing Pennsylvania's nascent medical marijuana industry in a big way — and believes her late father, the Philadelphia sports and business icon Ed Snider, would have done the same.
"I know he would have," Lindy Snider, who wants to build a 125,000-square-foot cannabis growing facility in Northeast Philadelphia, said this week. "And not just because of the health benefits. It's a solid business decision. This would have appealed to him on so many different levels."
"It was horrifying, it was like living a nightmare," his daughter said. "We had run out of options. So it made sense to try something different."
She gave her reluctant father some cannabis.
"It was very powerful," she said. "It restored his appetite. When someone isn't eating and you can get them to eat in a day, it's such a big thing."
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is taking applications until March 20 from businesses vying for 17 licenses to grow medical marijuana in the state, which will allow adults who receive a physician's certification to purchase products by 2018. With her extensive business experience, personal wealth, and many connections, Snider is considered a front-runner in a field estimated at 800 applicants.
Snider, 56, was recently named to the board of Thomas Jefferson University's Entrepreneurship and Social Impact Initiative (ESII), part of the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp. One of her start-ups, Lindi Skin, produces skin-care products for cancer patients. She serves on the board of KindFinancial, which provides banking services to the cannabis industry. She is married to Larry Kaiser, president and CEO of Temple University Health System.
She envisions a massive facility near the Bucks County line that will produce medical-grade cannabis under glass and lights. Proposed for a 14-acre parcel in the Byberry East Industrial Park, the plant initially would employ up to 50 people. "It will look like a cross between a greenhouse and a laboratory," she said. "It will be very clean and buttoned-down."
And it likely would be busy; just two growing facilities are slated for Southeastern Pennsylvania, the state's most populous region. For the moment, Snider, as CEO of Snider Health, is applying only for one license.
"For now, it's important to maintain integrity and not be pressured by thousands of shareholders in terms of the business decisions you make," she said.
Snider Health is partnering with the Clinic, a Denver company that operates multiple grow houses and marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, Nevada, and Illinois.
"They bring expertise in all aspects," she said, "from the actual growing of plants to the architecture."
Ed Snider was initially "a bit nervous" when Lindy made her first forays into the marijuana industry, she said.
"When I first started, he said, 'You can't use your name.' But I said, 'I don't have another name.' "
After some business study — and personal experience — he changed his mind.
"Once he became ill, he saw medical marijuana in a different light. He became very open to the business itself," she said. "It was too hard to ignore all the people he saw being helped with this."
But her friends and colleagues were scandalized.
Some people said, 'You're out of your mind.' Others said, 'Listen, have you thought about whether this could hurt your reputation?' But we felt it worth the risk. We think we can change the dialogue, get people to think of marijuana as a medicine. We thought the potential downside was far outweighed by the positive."
Yet Lindy Snider does not partake of cannabis.
"Believe it or not, I don't use," the aspiring marijuana maven said. "For some people, that mellowing effect is very desirable, but I'm hyper and get a lot done and rely on my hyper nature."
Eventually, Snider said, she'd like to apply for licenses to dispense marijuana. She calls shops -- which would operate independently of the growing operations -- "critical touch points with patients."
Snider won't even joke about marketing ideas such as Comcast-Spectator Cannabis, High Flyers Hemp products, or team jerseys emblazoned with pot leaves.
"There will be no cross-branding," she said.
If the state accepts Snider's application, marijuana production could begin in early 2018.
"Whether the time frame is prudent or not, in terms of building a building in that period of time, I don't know," she said. "But, hey, we're not going to be bored. Not for a minute."
More excerpts from the interview with Lindy Snider:
Question: How much interest is there in the local business community in medical marijuana?
Answer: It's hard for me to speculate, but every time I turn around, I hear of someone else who is trying to get into this. Even in this region, I know of dozens. Most are well-respected businesspeople in this community who have partnered with operators who have already done this. They're very smart people.
Q. Insurance won't cover medical marijuana. How will you make it affordable?
A. It's important that we have product accessible to everyone regardless of income. We will have programs to make sure that no one is turned away if they have a need. To me, that's part of the commitment of doing this. I hope someday insurance will [pay for it]. But fortunately, medical marijuana products are more affordable than some typical prescription pain medicines.
Q. Do you expect recreational marijuana to be legalized in Pennsylvania anytime soon?
A. I know there's a lot of people who would like to see that. And they'd like it sooner more than later. While that may be desirable, I don't think the state will do that until they get comfortable. States usually start with medical marijuana and with stringent rules. As they become more comfortable and see it run smoothly, they'll relax.
Q. Estimates are that the underground marijuana economy in Pennsylvania is worth $2 billion annually. How big will medical marijuana be?
A. I expect it to be a healthy market. I couldn't give you a size. We're not going to be able to compare ourselves to Colorado or California or other recreational states. And we won't really know until the other medical marijuana markets on the East Coast are developed.
Q. Some critics have described Pennsylvania's medical marijuana industry as a "state-sponsored cartel."
A. I don't agree with the premise that it's a cartel. I know there are activists who see it that way. But a new industry has to have, or is going to have, regulations whether we like them or not. It takes significant capital to open one of these grow houses. How the state chose to do it was not my choice.
I've heard people say this is a rich man's game, like it's an accusation. You could call any new industry a rich man's game. We have medicine that will get to people who need it. And just because it's a rich man's game doesn't mean that the rich don't have a desire to help other people.
Q. There's some concern that the U.S. Department of Justice will crack down on marijuana operations in the states. How would you persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to do that?
A. I'd send him videos of a person with movement disorder using the product and seeing the complete turnaround in 20 minutes. To me, the greatest illustration is the effect it has on children with epilepsy. I'd have him listen to their moms and dads talking about the value. Or ask him to talk with cancer patients about what it's done for them. There are many conditions it helps. You can't ignore all the anecdotal evidence. Thousands of children are benefiting.
Q. How can Pennsylvania avoid the problem New York had when there weren't enough doctors qualified to write recommendations?
A. In New York, because of the doctor bottleneck, the number of patients couldn't support the businesses. Our Department of Health will make coursework available for the doctors to qualify. That was one of the problems with the New York rollout, it wasn't in lockstep with business. It's critically important that that happens here.
In Maryland, the state awarded more than 60 permits for dispensaries and grow houses and none of them went to minority applicants.
Pennsylvania has really been very committed to minority participation. That's not a problem that will be repeated here. They're keenly aware of what has happened in other states.
Q. What else does the state need for the program to run smoothly?
A. It would be helpful if Pennsylvania considered making deliveries to patients available. In some states it accounts for 40 percent of total sales. We're talking about patients who may be very sick who can't get to a dispensary. You can't assume that they all have a support network that can pick product up for them. It makes sense to make access to it as easy as possible, especially for people who are terminally ill or unable to walk.