ED GAINEY

One of the two firms approved to grow medical marijuana in Pennsylvania’s Southwestern Region is PurePenn, LLC, which will establish its five-acre farm at the RIDC Park in McKeesport. None of the company’s principal investors is Black.

While this may provide about 40 jobs for the economically-distressed municipality, state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, said even before the announcement that the economic opportunities for African Americans to join the new industry in its earliest stages would be limited.

“Even nationwide, we haven’t seen much of an economic boost for African Americans coming from recreational or medical marijuana legalization.”
STATE REP. ED GAINEY
That’s because, he said, it was designed that way—not to specifically limit Black participation, but to limit all participation.

The first of those limitations—financing.

JAKE WHEATLEY

Those who won the health department’s approval June 20 had to first demonstrate they had the required level of capitalization—which the state set at $15 million. Not a lot of people in Homewood can do that, Gainey inferred.

But thanks to one of Gainey’s amendments to the original legislation, all the winning teams had to produce—and were scored on—a diversity plan that included minority investors.

“Even nationwide, we haven’t seen much of an economic boost for African Americans coming from recreational or medical marijuana legalization,” said Gainey.

“The pricing is an issue. I mean, I was at the table. We tried to get it lower, but the Republicans—a lot of whom were against legalization—wanted it higher still. It’s like this—if I don’t want an industry, am I going to provide easy access?”

Another limitation to Black participation in the new industry arose when, instead of licensing three distinct operations in the marijuana production chain—growers, processors, and dispensaries—legislators reduced it to two—grower/processors and dispensaries.

Per the health department regulations, each licensed dispensary can operate up to six locations but no more than two in any one county. Anyone applying for a dispensary license must have $150,000 on deposit in the bank to even be considered.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, agreed that the cost factor limits opportunities for African Americans, but it wasn’t an entirely nefarious decision.

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