A ceremonial groundbreaking took place Thursday afternoon for a medical cannabis growing and processing facility coming to McKeesport.
The PurePenn facility will fill 20,000 square feet in its initial phase, on an industrial site that was home to steel processing plants from 1869 until the 1980s.
CEO Gabriel Perlow said it’s a symbolic convergence of the past and future.
“This is about changing people’s minds, changing ideologies and ushering in the future of health care in America,” he said.
Among those attending the ceremony in support of PurePenn were Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, members of McKeesport City Council, state Sen. Jim Brewster and parents of children who will benefit from the medical cannabis program.
Joe McGurk, 47, of Beaver Valley, was one of many Pennsylvania parents who advocated for the passage of the state’s medical marijuana bill, so that his children could access what he called “life-changing” medicine.
“If you had told me five years ago we’d be here, I’d have said, ‘Well, that’s the goal. That’s where we want to be,’” McGurk said. “Meanwhile I’d have thought to myself, ‘You’re out of your stinking mind.’”
Two of McGurk’s four children have a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet’s syndrome. His wife, Danielle McGurk, 41, said Leah, 15, and Olivia, 12, have gone from having hundreds of seizures a day to just a handful in the past few months.
“They’re really doing well,” she said. “We have enjoyed our summer this year, where we have never been able to before.”
Parents of children with qualifying conditions are able to access some forms of medical marijuana from across state lines through the program’s safe harbor provision.
PurePenn was one of 12 grower/processors chosen last month by the state Department of Health, out of 177 applicants.
Perlow said the facility will be fully operational by Dec. 20, though the company can’t actually start growing and processing marijuana until it gets the OK from the state.
Perlow said he expects to hire 25 people during the initial phase, with a focus on McKeesport residents.