FAIRMONT — If everything goes according to plan, White Hall could become home to Marion County’s first medical marijuana dispensary.
Chris Kohan, CEO of the Pittsburgh-based The Healing Center, said the company is on target to bring a dispensary to White Hall next year, and although people have questions and concerns over the new kind of business for the state, he believes it will do well in West Virginia.
“Everywhere we have gone so far, we have been welcomed with open arms,” Kohan said. “I think it’s gotten past that point now where people understand that it is a medicine like any other. The problem is it has been demonized for so long.”
Several Marion County officials took part in a Zoom call Thursday morning, when Kohan fielded questions after applying for a business license to put a branch in White Hall.
The Marion County Chamber of Commerce organized the meeting after visiting the healing center last month. Chamber President Tina Shaw said the visit to the Health Center in Pittsburgh was informative, and she wanted to spread the information she got from the trip to others in Marion County.
“There were several of us who went to the Healing Center,” Shaw said. “After that tour and that presentation, we were very impressed with the way they conduct their business and their model.”
Kohan said West Virginia passed a bill allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries to come to the state in 2017, but there were a few holdups that kept the Health Center from getting to the state sooner. He said West Virginia’s model for medical marijuana is similar to Pennsylvania’s, where the Health Center is based, so he feels comfortable about bringing it to the state.
“We feel very strongly that the patient base is going to be the current patient base that we see,” Kohan said. “We’re talking about areas that have the same challenges, same problem with the opioid epidemic, so we’re going to feel really comfortable talking to West Virginians because that’s what we do every day.”
Kohan reassured everyone on the call that the Health Center will create a completely new infrastructure for its dispensaries in West Virginia, to produce locally and hire people from the areas the businesses are based in.
“We’re going to hire 20, 25 people from the area, and that’s the biggest thing we want to get across to people,” Kohan said. “We’re going to do a job fair locally and we’re going to interview and hire local talent.”
Shaw said Kohan told her the Health Center donates funds to local nonprofits as well as community action groups, which she believes will also benefit the area when it arrives in Marion County.
“What struck me and made me very excited about that was that they are very philanthropic and they give back to the communities they are in,” Shaw said.
The financial investment it takes to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to any community is large right now, Kohan said, and it will be a huge undertaking to create the necessary infrastructure in West Virginia. He said this investment itself will be a benefit to the state’s economy.
“To open one of these places, the costs are significant; they’re up in the seven figures,” Kohan said. “You have to build labs, you have to build growth facilities. For a dispensary, you’ve got to get a property, you’ve got to remodel it and finish it to fit the program and the regulations, then you have to buy product and sustain it and turn a point where you start to turn a profit.”
Kohan said the impact a medical marijuana dispensary will be great for those who have certain medical conditions or those who experience chronic pain. So far, the dispensaries in Pennsylvania have been able to help people, and he is hoping to do the same in West Virginia.
“We get people with cancer, we get people with Crohn’s disease, we get people with epilepsy,” Kohan said. “It’s very beneficial to a lot of people.”