Hellam Twp. OK's conditional use for medical marijuana facility

Christopher Dornblaser
505-5436/@YDDornblaser
  • Hellam Township's board of supervisors voted to approve conditional use of a marijuana facility.
  • The facility still needs to get a grower permit to continue.

The Hellam Township Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the conditional use of a marijuana manufacturing facility Thursday night.

Viridis Medicine LLC proposed building a nearly 50,000-square-foot medical cannabis grower/process facility at 6287 Lincoln Highway, according to a conditional-use application filed with the township.

Viridis Medicine LLC is looking to put a medical marijuana production facility on a vacant lot along Cool Springs Road in Hellam Township. The township is holding a public meeting Thursday, Feb. 2 to hear zoning requests for the facility.  Thursday, January 26, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

On Thursday, nearly 100 residents showed up at the Hellam Fire Co. to listen to Viridis about its proposal, followed by a public discussion. The meeting was moved from the township building to the fire company in anticipation of the high interest.

About a dozen of those residents took to the microphone to address their concerns about having such a facility in the township. Some argued that having marijuana, which some called a "gateway" drug that is illegal federally, would send the wrong message to children, whereas others argued that the drug eases pain and supported the facility.

Virdis' plans: According to documents filed with the township, Viridis plans to have about 15 employees working at the enclosed facility, which would include motion detectors, security guards on site 24-7 and about 300 security cameras.

Company officials told the township the proposed building would cost about $6 million, according to a draft of last month's planning commission meeting minutes.

Viridis also told the planning commission it would implement a 2.5 percent self-imposed tax on its gross revenue to invest in the community, according to the drafted minutes.

Viridis' consultant, Nick Easley, who has assisted with similar facilities all over the country, shared the plan for the facility in a nearly hour-long presentation.

Easley mentioned the cannabis that would be made at the facility is for medicinal purposes and not something someone would typically use to smoke a joint. He said it would be for things such as suppositories, pills and nebulizers, which deliver medicine in a mist form.

He said the cannabis will be made in the facility and will be sent to dispensaries by armed drivers.

Additionally, he said all leftover marijuana will be destroyed on-site. He also said there will be a ventilation system, so there won't be any "skunk" smell.

"You have the opportunity to do something different," Easley said to the board. "To do what's right."

Public comment: About a dozen residents went to the mic to voice their opinions on the matter. The first person to voice opposition to the facility was Dr. Barbara Hoffmann.

Dr. Barbara Hoffmann, of Hellam Township, address members of Viridis during a board meeting Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Christopher Dornblaser.

Hoffmann, a physician from Hellam Township, said she would never recommend medicinal marijuana to her patients.

"This is an illegal product," she said.

Hoffmann also took issue with the facility, which she called a "pot farm," saying children would pass the plant on their way to school, where they are taught an "anti-drug" message.

"It just doesn't ring to me as a truthful statement," she said.

Candy Warner, of Dover Township, said marijuana could help her son, who has epilepsy.

"This is an answer to a prayer for my family," she said.

"This is not a pot farm, this is something that is going to help my son to live a better life and to help a lot of other people," Warner said.

Warner said even if the marijuana wasn't helping to cure someone, it was helping to ease someone's pain.

Chris Gendron, of Hellam Township, said marijuana is a "stepping stone" to more drugs, which would be bad because of York County's opioid problem.

"There's enough ODs going on around here; local newscasts do something literally every night concerning opioid addiction," he said.

"You bring this in, you are willingly walking people to the next step," he said.

Judith Mueller, of Hellam Township, disputed that, saying the National Institute of Health said most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other drugs.

"We're not going to be having joints in Hellam Township, we're going to be having a medical marijuana processing plant — that's probably a good thing," Mueller said. "If you don't pollute our water or our air," she added.

Vote: After more than two hours, the board finally came to a vote. Initially, supervisor Riki Potosky motioned to table the vote in order to look into the concerns of the citizens. There was no second for that vote, so it failed.

Supervisor Dave Miller moved to approve the conditional use of the facility, which was unanimously voted on.

After the vote of approval, Jeff Geisel, of Hellam Township, one of Viridis' founders, said the company has to send a grower application to the Pennsylvania Department of Health before it could move forward with the facility.

If that is approved, it will begin construction.

"We still have a long way to go," he said.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.