East Liverpool Medical Marijuana Complex Starts to Grow
EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – Rebecca Myers grew up in nearby Lawrence County, Pa. and was always disheartened to see so many residents – including herself – leave the region to pursue their careers.
Then, a former porcelain manufacturing plant along Harvey Avenue presented a whole new opportunity for Myers, now the CEO of FarmaceuticalRX, a vertically integrated medical marijuana company that cultivates, processes and dispenses medical cannabis.
“This was an opportunity to bring something back to where I’m from,” she says. FarmaceuticalRX’s first cultivation and processing facility opened in Farrell, Pa. in 2019. “I think these are two communities that appreciate a thriving industry.”
FarmaceuticalRX secured a lease on the old Harvey Avenue building about three years ago and purchased the building last year.
The company started its grow operations about three weeks ago, Myers says. It has, however, processed plants from other suppliers into products such as chocolate bars, gummies and oils used for vaping. These products are sold through the company’s dispensaries.
The first harvest at the East Liverpool complex should be ready in June, Myers says, and the first products should ship out in July. As the operation builds out, the operation should employ about 120 between the growing and processing segments.
Myers says the 110,000-square-foot facility is larger than its plant in Farrell, and will begin using 25,000 square-feet of cultivation space. Under Ohio’s medical marijuana regulations, a Level 1 grow site has the opportunity to expand at increments of 25,000 square feet to a maximum of 75,000 square-feet.
FarmaceuticalRX also operates a medical marijuana dispensary on Dresden Avenue. The company recently won early approval through a state lottery for a second dispensary in Cuyahoga County.
Plants begin growing in propagation rooms and after two weeks are transplanted to two “veg” rooms, where they will be nurtured for nine weeks. The plants are then transplanted to flower rooms for another nine weeks before they are harvested. The East Liverpool facility houses 10 of these rooms.
“We grow according to organic practices,” Myers says. “We’re about creating high quality craft products.” All of the company’s plants are grown in soil mixed with organic nutrients such as microbial teas and kelp under LED and high-pressure sodium lights.
She says the market for medicinal marijuana in Ohio has grown substantially since the state approved its production, processing and sale in 2017. The first Level 1 licenses were awarded in 2018.
Patients who have qualifying conditions such as cancer, ALS, MS, glaucoma, chronic pain, ulcerative colitis, brain injury, PTSD and other ailments could potentially obtain a prescription for medicinal marijuana. State regulators determine which conditions can be treated with medical cannabis. One condition that has not yet been approved in Ohio is anxiety, Myers says. “Pennsylvania has already done that,” she says. “Anxiety is a global epidemic right now. There are very few treatments, and many of those treatments have terrible side effects.”
After Pennsylvania approved anxiety as a qualifying condition, demand for medical cannabis increased substantially across the state, she says. “It doubled the size of the Pennsylvania program.”
Treating anxiety as a qualifying illness for medical cannabis would benefit patients all across Ohio, Myers says. “The pandemic has worsened that, and mental health issues in our communities have increased exponentially.”
Myers says that the company is preparing an application for similar licenses in Florida. Recently, FarmaceuticalRX received $34 million in financing from Chicago Atlantic Real Estate Finance Inc. to finish work on the East Liverpool campus.
Once the plants are harvested, they are transported to the East Liverpool campus’ processing operation.
James Scully, vice president of new market development, says the plants are processed through equipment that extracts specific properties of cannabis and distilled into a clear liquid. The distilled material is then used in a cartridge for vaping, or transferred to a large kitchen where they are baked into different products. “We have a 2,000 square-foot kitchen,” Scully says. “We make two key products, chocolate bars and gummies.”
On this day, Sarah Rice, processing technician, displays cannabis-free placebo chocolates and gummies that she created herself. “I have a background in culinary arts, so I like to make things look pretty and taste great, and worked in the medical field and labs for 13 years,” she says. She points to a batch of s’mores bars that she baked, fire roasting each of the marshmallows herself.
All of the products are vegan as well, she notes. “We’re just trying to think ahead,” she says. “I’m already thinking about Christmas.” The overall objective is to manufacture the highest quality product possible for the sole benefit of the patient, Myers says. “We’re like the Whole Foods of the medical cannabis industry,” she says.