A proposed medical marijuana dispensary slated for Berks County will relocate after officials demanded a special tax, deemed a "host benefit fee," that the state said could make the medicine unaffordable for patients. Another dispensary, planned for Delaware County, has also been sent packing, after the Upper Darby zoning board retroactively changed an ordinance and denied the dispensary a variance.
In the first case, Franklin Bioscience-Penn LLC had won a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Health in June to open in a former Kinko's north of Reading in Muhlenberg Township. After the permit was granted to the Denver-based company, the township demanded that Franklin turn over 5 percent of its receipts.
John Collins, director of the state's Office of Medical Marijuana, on Aug. 31 granted Franklin Bioscience's appeal to relocate. The permission was the second granted the week before the Labor Day holiday: The state also announced it would allow Terravida Holistic Center, which had planned on opening on Stenton Avenue in East Mount Airy, to find another location after the owners met stiff opposition.
"If Franklin Bioscience is required to pay the host benefit fee, Franklin Bioscience's financial position may be negatively impacted, which may, in turn, result in inflated medical marijuana prices for patients," Collins wrote in a letter to the company's CEO, Andrew Weiss.
Neither Franklin Bioscience nor Muhlenberg Township officials responded to requests for comment.
In Upper Darby, AES Compassionate Care had planned to open in the Highland Park neighborhood. In March, it had been given the green light to set up shop in a section zoned C1, where pharmacies and medical offices, among others, are permitted, said lawyer Ted Flowers of Moriconi Flowers, a boutique firm that represents medical marijuana clients. By the time AES received a dispensary permit in June, however, the township had rewritten its zoning code to relegate all medical marijuana facilities to industrial areas zoned C4. On Aug. 28, after the zoning board denied it a variance, AES said it would seek another site.
A spokeswoman for the state medical marijuana program said late Tuesday that AES had not yet made a formal request to relocate.
Tyler Dautrich, operations manager for Greenhouse Ventures, the Philadelphia-based business accelerator for start-ups involved with the cannabis industry, said such issues had been common in other states as they have launched their programs.
"I think if we got through the process without any hiccups, we would have been the first," Dautrich said. "I don't believe we'll see any major setbacks here, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed."