Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on medical cannabis and how its legalization will impact Pennsylvanians.

PITTSBURGH — It’s been a year since Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill making medical marijuana legal in Pennsylvania planting the seeds of capitalism in a new industry. Now one of the biggest signs that this industry could be about to explode was seen Friday along the banks of the Allegheny River. Now the two biggest movements in the state are to step up education about the benefits of the drug and connecting various groups together to help launch the industry.

The Steel City played host to the first ever World Medical Cannabis Conference and Expo inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Friday and Saturday. About 3,000 people were expected to attend the event, which featured about 150 different vendors and included several panel discussions with industry leaders on topics like the use of cannabis to treat opioid addiction, the medical benefits of cannabis among professional athletes and children.

Among those in attendance included former Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans and Lindie Snider, a medical marijuana financial investor and daughter of the late Ed Snider, the owner of the Flyers and former chairman of Comcast Spectacor.

The event was presented by Compassionate Certification Centers, which according to its website, connects healthcare providers with the resources and guidance to serve qualified patients looking for medical marijuana recommendations and prescriptions. The event was co-hosted by Greenhouse Ventures, whose mission is to assist in building a successful and sustainable cannabis industry by accelerating the growth of startups that service the industry, its website states.

A major theme of the conference was education. Since Act 16 was signed into law, legalizing medical marijuana April 17, 2016, some have felt in the dark as to how the new laws might affect them. For many, the expo was an opportunity to shed some light on the subject.

“We wanted to provide a platform for people to be educated,” said Dr. Bryan Doner, CEO and medical director of Compassionate Certification Centers. “And really understand what medical cannabis is and how it’s going to be integrated into our healthcare society. In order for that to be done successfully and safely, education’s key.”

Melonie Kotchey, chief operating officer and co-founder of Compassionate Certification Centers, said another important goal for the expo was to unite the various aspects of the industry under one roof.

“Patients, doctors, health care providers and industry leaders,” she said. “If you’ve ever been to other conventions, a lot of times they leave out key factors that we feel are really important, which are the patients and the physicians.”

“The idea here is to really bring the medical marijuana discussion to the table,” said Benjamin F. Barnett, chief marketing officer for the Philadelphia-based CoFund360, the parent of Greenhouse Ventures. He was there with Jeff Bruno, the company’s chief financial officer.

“The idea is to bring groups that are involved in this business to the largest convention,” Barnett said. “The idea is to bring the medical profession into the same room. And really give it a place to talk and breathe new ideas and start thinking about the products and the environments that people are looking to build with these new laws.”

In other words, the conference was less Cheech and Chong and more doctors and lawyers.

“It’s a whole different crowd than the average person might think would show up to a cannabis conference,” Barnett said. “Even though it’s a medical cannabis conference.”

Navigating the various legal issues surrounding the medical marijuana industry can be confusing for businesses looking to get involved, said Skip Shuda, executive director of the eastern region of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Association. His trade association is trying to prepare the path for tradespeople and business owners alike. The company’s home office is located in Greensburg, Pa., near the Pittsburgh area, but it also has a presence in the King of Prussia area. Shuda himself is from Media.

“We also do some education about medical cannabis and how it works with the body,” he said. “We do some advocacy work partnering with Keystone Cannabis Coalition and trying to get the word out about changing laws.”

One example of the many regulations Shuda said he discusses with business owners includes the fact that normal business expenses can’t be written off, since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, he said. It’s those kinds of situations that need to be carefully navigated if the industry has a chance to grow.

The other is getting members of the public who are still on the fence about the concept of medical marijuana to be on-board or at least have an open mind. The consensus among those polled in Pittsburgh suggested people who feel lukewarm about the idea should educate themselves on the topic and its many benefits. To help, people like Kotchey will be busy getting the word out.

“Letting people know it’s legalized here in Pennsylvania,” she said. “This is a world convention. We have people coming here from literally all over the world. So the stigma will slowly, overtime it will subside.”

“Education and understanding is the key to making this go,” said Doner.

Source: Eric Devlin, Author at Daily Local News
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