Ear­leville grower se­lected for Rx pot li­cense

Top 5 Ce­cil Co. field hockey games to watch in 2016 One of 15 ap­proved by Md. com­mis­sion

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS Elk­ton holds first Chalk the Walks event

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— Green is in Ce­cil County’s fu­ture af­ter a state com­mis­sion pre-ap­proved a li­cense Mon­day for a med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow op­er­a­tion to be based in War­wick.

SunMed Grow­ers LLC was one of just 15 li­censees se­lected by the com­mis­sion out of a pool of 145 grower ap­pli­cants to re­ceive one of the cov­eted li­cense pre-ap­provals.

BAL­TI­MORE

SunMed is led by Ja­cob Van Winger­den, pres­i­dent of Ti­dal Creek Grow­ers, an Ear­leville plant pro­duc­tion com­pany that sells spe­cialty an­nual pot­ted plants wholesale to MidAt­lantic gar­den re­tail­ers.

“We were very, very, very ex­cited. Our team worked very hard over the last year,” he said Mon­day night, not­ing it has been a long wait since they sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion last Novem­ber. “We’re very anx­ious to be able to pro­vide high-qual­ity medicine for the res­i­dents of Mary­land. That’s what this is all about.”

Van Winger­den, who started Ti­dal Creek Grow­ers in 2002, is a third gen­er­a­tion green­house grower, whose grand­fa­ther em­i­grated to Amer­ica from Hol­land in the 1940s. To­day, the Ti­dal Creek op­er­a­tion has grown to in­clude a sec­ond fa­cil­ity in David­sonville, out­side the An­napo­lis area. Vis­i­tors to his Ear­leville op­er­a­tion can find rows upon rows of mums, marigolds, poin­set­tias, gera­ni­ums and more in heated green­house fa­cil­i­ties. Be­tween both fa­cil­i­ties, Ti­dal Creek grows more than 8 mil­lion plants a year.

Van Winger­den said that his team’s agri­cul­tural back­ground was the cen­ter­piece of his ap­pli­ca­tion to the com­mis­sion. SunMed, which in­cludes Van Winger­den and three other grow­ers who work for him, will likely as­sign one grower to over­see the med­i­cal mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion while the oth­ers help run the busi­ness.

“The grow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the four of us was front and cen­ter in our ap­pli­ca­tion,” he said.

Grow­ing the first crop of med­i­cal mar­i­juana will be a new chal­lenge for Van Winger­den though.

“I’ve never touched the stuff and I don’t plan to at least from a recre­ational stand­point,” he said with a laugh when asked if he had ever had prior ex­pe­ri­ence grow­ing mar­i­juana. “But cannabis is a plant like any other plant, and we’re ex­pert plant grow­ers.”

Van Winger­den said he has made con­tact with grow­ers in states where it had been le­gal­ized for medic­i­nal or recre­ational use, though.

“That grower group is fairly small, so we talk and share with each other,” he said, not­ing it’s not un­com­mon in the green­house grow­ing in­dus­try to ven­ture into mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion as states le­gal­ize its use in one form or an­other. “The re­al­ity is five years ago, no­body could grow this legally, so now that it’s be­com­ing main­stream and more ac­cepted, pro­fes­sional com­pa­nies and grow­ers are get­ting in­volved in the in­dus­try. It’s ba­si­cally com­ing out of the base­ment, and it’s not the hip­pies do­ing it. That’s who we are: we’re pro­fes­sional grow­ers. Grow­ing is a sci­ence and one with low mar­gins, so you have to find a process that works and ad­here to it.”

While his gar­den plant op­er­a­tion is lo­cated in Ear­leville, Van Winger­den said the med­i­cal mar­i­juana fa­cil­ity will be lo­cated in War­wick at a prop­erty that is un­der con­tract for pur­chase. The plan is to build a 50,000-square-foot, glass-topped con­crete and steel fa­cil­ity, sur­rounded by an 8-foot, ra­zor-wire-topped fence. A se­cu­rity staff will be man­ning the fa­cil­ity 24/7 as well, Van Winger­den said.

“It will be very off lim­its and the only peo­ple in that fa­cil­ity will be those au­tho­rized to be there,” he said.

Last sum­mer, SunMed of­fi­cials met with the Ce­cil County Coun­cil, Ce­cil County Ex­ec­u­tive Tari Moore and county depart­ment heads to dis­cuss their plans.

“They asked some very good ques­tions and even reached out to me af­ter the fact with more ques­tions,” Van Winger­den said.

On Tues­day, Moore said she was pleased that SunMed earned one of the li­censes and be­lieves their back­ground and lo­cal ties helped their ap­pli­ca­tion. She and Van Winger­den talked Tues­day about fa­cil­i­tat­ing what per­mits and ap­provals the com­pany will need from the county to move for­ward as soon as pos­si­ble.

Moore also noted that this an­nounce­ment along with re­cent ones, such as Lidl’s in­vest­ment in a re­gional head­quar­ters here, the ex­pan­sion of War­wick Mush­room Farm and the re­turn of some pre­vi­ously lost C&S Wholesale Gro­cer jobs, has shaped up to be a pos­i­tive sum­mer in Ce­cil County from an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment stand­point. The county ex­ec­u­tive cred­its re­cent ef­forts by her ad­min­is­tra­tion and the county coun­cil to in­vest in in­fras­truc­ture up­grades as a rea­son why there is re­newed in­ter­est in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the county. Moore added that the com­mis­sion’s ap­proval of a med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow li­cense here signals that it sees Ce­cil County as a place pre­pared for such an op­er­a­tion.

“We’ve fo­cused on build­ing it and know­ing that they will come,” she said. “So now we’re see­ing the re­sults of all that we’ve planted and cul­ti­vated.”

SunMed’s grow fa­cil­ity will cre­ate new jobs as well, although Van Winger­den said that he ex­pects that their op­er­a­tion will start small as the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try takes time to get started. At first, about 10 peo- ple will run the fa­cil­ity around the clock with plans to ex­pand the op­er­a­tion as needed. He an­tic­i­pates that it will be close to a year be­fore the first crop of med­i­cal mar­i­juana in har­vested in Ce­cil County, as it will take at least six months to build the fa­cil­ity and three to four months to grow and har­vest the first crop.

“If you look at sim­i­lar mar­kets like New York or Min­nesota, it took about a year to re­ally get started,” he said. “Not only are we try­ing to grow safe, ef­fec­tive medicine for Mary­land pa­tients, but we also want to be busi­ness savvy and make sure we’re sus­tain­able and can turn a profit.”

Un­like seven of his fel­low grow­ers, how­ever, Van Winger­den is not af­fil­i­ated with any of the 15 pro­ces­sor li­censees also ap­proved on Mon­day. He said he hopes to work with all 15 pro­ces­sors to ex­pand the mar­ket for his Ce­cil County prod­uct.

Grow­ers will grow mar­i­juana from seeds to the cul­ti­vated buds that be­come Amer­ica’s most ubiq­ui­tous il­le­gal nar­cotic. As a medicine, how­ever, its ac­tive in­gre­di­ents — tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol, or THC, and cannabid­iol, or CBD — will be highly reg­u­lated by the state be­fore it can be sold to dis­pen­saries or pro­ces­sors.

Pro­ces­sors will man­u­fac­ture a wide va­ri­ety of cannabis-in­fused prod­ucts con­tain­ing high and low ex­tracts of THC or CBD. Th­ese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal-grade prod­ucts will in­clude oral forms such as oils, pills, cap­sules, tinc­tures, sub­lin­gual sprays and in­haled prod­ucts as well as top­i­cal forms such as oint- ments, salves and trans­der­mal patches.

Mary­land re­ceived 145 grower ap­pli­ca­tions, 124 pro­ces­sor ap­pli­ca­tions and 811 dis­pen­sary li­cense ap­pli­ca­tions. The MMCC com­mis­sioned the Tow­son Univer­sity Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute to con­tract with third­party sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts from around the United States to eval­u­ate the ap­pli­ca­tions us­ing a dou­ble-blinded process. RESI as­signed unique iden­ti­fy­ing num­bers to each ap­pli­ca­tion prior to eval­u­a­tion and re­view by sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts and the com­mis­sion.

Ap­pli­ca­tion con­tent com­prised text and sup­port­ing doc­u­ments redacted of all iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion such as in­di­vid­ual or en­tity ap­pli­cant names and lo­ca­tions. Once eval­u­ated and scored by the sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts, RESI com­piled the scores and ranked the ap­pli­ca­tions. The scored and ranked redacted grower and pro­ces­sor ap­pli­ca­tions were then pro­vided to the com­mis­sion for re­view and fi­nal se­lec­tion.

The lo­ca­tions of the grow­ers and pro­ces­sors span 16 coun­ties and Bal­ti­more City, in­clud­ing Al­le­gany, Anne Arun­del, Bal­ti­more, Car­roll, Ce­cil, Charles, Dorch­ester, Fred­er­ick, Gar­rett, Howard, Mont­gomery, Prince Ge­orge’s, Queen Anne’s, Wash­ing­ton, Wi­comico and Worces­ter. While the com­mis­sion gen­er­ally ac­cepted the high­est scores, the 14th and 15th high­est grower ap­pli­cants were de­ferred for two lower scor­ing ap­pli­cants in or­der to spread the li­censes over a wider ge­og­ra­phy.

While for­mer Ce­cil County Sher­iff and cur­rent Ce­cil County De­ten­tion Cen­ter Com­mu­nity Adult Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter di­rec­tor Barry Jan­ney was at­tached to a Har­ford County grower ap­pli­cant — True Health Ch­e­sa­peake LLC — their ap­pli­ca­tion was not ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful. An­other grow op­er­a­tion that did ex­press in­ter­est in lo­cat­ing in Ce­cil County — Freestate Well­ness LLC led by busi­ness­man Cary Mill­stein — ul­ti­mately de­cided to lo­cate in Howard County.

Those se­lected will still have to pass a sec­ond stage of ap­provals, in­clud­ing an ex­ten­sive fi­nan­cial due dili­gence and back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions of all those named in the orig­i­nal ap­pli­ca­tion and any other prin­ci­pals. Each en­tity that was is­sued a preap­proval will have one year from Mon­day to com­plete all nec­es­sary steps to ob­tain a for­mal li­cense. Th­ese steps in­clude com­plet­ing reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments, rais­ing cap­i­tal, ac­quir­ing real es­tate, se­cur­ing lo­cal zon­ing ap­provals, con­struc­tion of fa­cil­i­ties, in­stal­la­tion of equip­ment and the hir­ing and train­ing of staff.

The com­mis­sion will re­view and vote on the dis­pen­saries (two per state sen­a­to­rial dis­trict and po­ten­tially 15 ad­di­tional for grow­ers who wish to be ver­ti­cally in­te­grated) with medicine ten­ta­tively be­com­ing avail­able by the sum­mer of 2017.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

Ja­cob Van Winger­den, chief of­fi­cer of SunMed Grow­ers, ex­plains the grow­ing pro­cess­ing of chrysan­the­mums at his green­house at Ti­dal Creek Grow­ers in Ear­leville on Tues­day.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

Ja­cob Van Winger­den and his busi­ness part­ners re­lied upon their ex­pe­ri­ence as ex­pert plant grow­ers, cul­ti­vat­ing 8 mil­lion plants a year at Ti­dal Creek Grow­ers, in their suc­cess­ful med­i­cal mar­i­juana grower ap­pli­ca­tion.

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