An Aspinwall entrepreneur pitched his plan for a medical cannabis dispensary to residents of Lawrenceville and surrounding neighborhoods at a community meeting Monday night.
Jake Voelker, 32, originally from Erie, presented his plan as a way to help fellow veterans who are seeking an alternative or supplement to traditional medicine.
“A bunch of people reached out to me and said, ‘Jake, this is something that our community needs. Are you interested in doing this?” he said. “It’s an in-between of some of the other drugs you can currently get at Veteran’s Affairs hospitals which are opiates, or self-medicating with things like Jim Beam.”
Though Voelker is a service-disabled veteran, he said he has no need for medical cannabis himself. But he said veterans of the post-9/11 generation are particularly interested in alternative medicine, including not only cannabis but also yoga and meditation.
Calling himself the “little guy,” Voelker said he anticipates having to compete with larger companies for one of 50 dispensary licenses to be issued by the state health department.
“I’m a local guy making my way just like everybody else. I don’t have millions of dollars behind me,” he said. “However, there are people that have millions of dollars behind them that could go after these licenses.”
Voelker said he believes community support will help him make his case to the state.
Residents in attendance asked questions about the timeline for opening, security considerations and the impact on property values and crime.
Voelker promised the approximately 40 people at the meeting that his business would look more like a pharmacy than a hangout spot. He said security is one of his top considerations and that he expects customers to be in and out of the business quickly, rather than lingering.
State Rep. Dom Costa said Voelker’s presentation was “right on target.”
“He’s following what the intent of the legislature was,” he said. “He’s doing in a very professional manner and he’s looking out for our veterans, which is a big plus for all of us. He lives around the area. He’s going to make sure it’s a good, reputable place.”
After the meeting, Sarah Walsh, the owner of nearby Café d’Amour approached Voelker, inviting him to meet with her at the coffee shop.
“To be honest, even though I am supportive and I admire and I want to see medicinal marijuana, the concern is, is this really the amenities that we really need to try to woo in here first?” she said.
Walsh also said she wonders if Voelker’s customers would patronize other local businesses while in Upper Lawrenceville, or if it would truly be a “grab and go” scenario.
If Voelker is granted a license, he could potentially open two more locations of his Cannabis Company of Pennsylvania. The state system is expected to be up and running by October 2017.