Against All Odds Philadelphia Set to Open Its First MMJ Dispensary
Restore Integrative Wellness Aims to be
First Legal Cannabis Dispensary in Philadelphia
Legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania has been a long and difficult struggle, but it has been two months since the new laws were enacted and there still isn’t a legal dispensary in Philadelphia… so, what gives?
The bill that finally brought medical cannabis to The Keystone State was actually signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in April of 2016, but the first legal MMJ dispensaries in the state did not open their doors until mid-February of this year.
Originally, only six locations were allowed statewide, and none of them were in the iconic city of Philadelphia. Five permits were granted within Philly city limits, but lawsuits, anti-cannabis opposition, and construction delays have set the timeline back until at least May of this year before the city will see its first pot shop.
Restore Integrative Wellness is scheduled to open in Fishtown next month, hoping to blaze a trail for others to follow in the City of Brotherly Love.
Another group by the name of Pharmacann owned a storefront near Philadelphia Mills, near I-95, and had plans to open there early this year. Instead, they were sued in Federal Court by the shopping center they were due to join, with court documents referring to Pharmacann as a “drug store”. As if that ever stopped a new Walgreens from going up…
Rather than risk setting a bad precedent by bringing a cannabis case into Federal Court, and rather than risk causing any further delays to the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program, Pharmacann bit the bullet and sold the property, electing instead to move out of city limits.
What would-be dispensary owners are discovering in Philly is what has been seen in cities coast to coast where the voters demand access to cannabis and reluctant politicians allow the laws to pass but burden them with unrealistic zoning laws that make it nearly impossible to operate anywhere reasonable.
Philadelphia, for example, had a 1000 meter setback rule between any potential dispensary and any daycare facility. That ruled out virtually the entire city, especially anywhere with viable real estate available. So it was appealed and the Department of Health reduced it by half, to 500 feet. Still, daycare centers are so common, the map was covered in overlapping circles of no-build zones for cannabis businesses.
Pro-cannabis lawyers are fighting right now to get that setback reduced to 1 foot. They argue, logically, that “no 18-month-old child is going to crave medical marijuana”. Common sense laws are crucial, and all too often lacking when it comes to marijuana.
As if weed-hating neighbors and a tone deaf Department of Health wasn’t bad enough, the biggest threat posed to the entire process was a lawsuit filed by a company called Keystone ReLeaf LLC that aimed to dismantle the state’s marijuana program altogether.
After the company was denied a permit last year for allegedly submitting an incomplete application, they filed a complaint in Commonwealth Court seeking to tear up all permits awarded to all growers and dispensary owners and start the entire process from scratch.
Had the case been successful, it would have set Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program back years, stranding patients throughout the state with no legal or safe access to the plant. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and their lawsuit was kicked out of court, appropriately, on 4/20.
Meanwhile, in South Philly, Keystone Shops is looking to open a spot late this summer on the 300 block of Packer Avenue.
Further north, in Bustleton, Holistic Pharma is looking to set up at Krewston Road & Bloomfield Avenue, but they are laying back and waiting to see just how the new market settles in with the new laws. They point to a basic supply and demand problem with the market as it is, with many dispensaries supposedly running out of product within weeks of their grand openings.
With some 17,000 Pennsylvania residents registered under the new medical marijuana program, and with more sure to join all the time, the state will need to resolve the cultivation and distribution bottleneck it currently has.
For now, all eyes are on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown and Restore Interactive Wellness as the dust finally settles on their exhaustive 6-month remodel and they open for business, looking to continue the tradition of fighting for freedom that Philadelphia is known for.