Athens County eyed as site for medical marijuana operation

Click here for the original article from The Athens Messenger. 

April 23, 2017

Steve Robb

A company based in central Ohio wants to operate a medical marijuana facility at Theisen Industrial Park near The Plains.

If Black Elk Biotech can get state licenses, the plan is to grow marijuana and process it into treatment products that could then be shipped to dispensaries. Black Elk has entered into a research agreement with Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute, according to company co-owner Chris Vince.

Vince has been in discussions with representatives of the Athens County Port Authority about locating Black Elk’s facility at Theisen Industrial Park. On Wednesday, Vince made a presentation to the Port Authority’s board. The board then voted to offer Black Elk a six-month option to purchase up to 8 acres of industrial park land at $8,500 per acre, with an opportunity for 30-day extensions. The company would have to pay a $5,000 non-refundable option fee.

Vince said Black Elk needs to have a site under its control (an option would accomplish that) at the time it applies for state licenses to grow and process medical marijuana.

“We’ve decided that Athens would be the logical place to locate our business, just because a major part of our business will be Edison Biotech, and just the proximity to them would be fantastic,” Vince said.

According to Vince, the company will pay Edison Biotech $1.85 million over five years for research. Edison Biotech will be researching the compounds in marijuana and how they can be applied to the treatment of medical conditions for which the state of Ohio has authorized use of medical marijuana. Vince said the research will help identify which types of marijuana should be grown.

Shiyong Wu, director of Edison Biotechnology Institute, said the research will also involve plants other than marijuana, including maple and pomegranate. He said a state license for marijuana research has been obtained, but Edison Biotech wants to get a federal license before starting the cannabis research.

While there is anecdotal evidence that marijuana has medical benefits, Wu said Edison Biotech wants to do evidence-based research to prove what types of marijuana work for which medical conditions.

He said the intellectual property derived from the research will belong to Ohio University, but Black Elk Biotech will have the first right to license it.

Black Elk wants to construct a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse at the industrial park, and an office and processing facility of 8,000 to 12,000 square feet. Black Elk is proposing to hire 28 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees. Salaries would range from $22,000 to $100,000 per year and benefits would be provided, according to information Vince presented to the board.

He said that within a year of the start of operations there would be the potential to double in size.

Vince said that the company’s preference would be for the Port Authority to have the facility constructed and enter into a lease-purchase agreement with Black Elk. In the alternative, a private investor could be sought.

Port Authority board member Don Linder questioned whether whoever paid for construction of the facility would be running a risk of the state or the federal government shutting down the medical marijuana operation.

Vince said he doesn’t believe Ohio would take such an action since it has a medical marijuana law, and that if there were a federal crack-down it more likely would be against states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

The vote by the Port Authority board to offer the land purchase option was unanimous, although Chairman Jack Bortle was not at the meeting.

Port Authority Vice Chairman Robert Gall said that Bortle will likely appoint a subcommittee to meet with Black Elk Biotech to talk about the “bones of this thing, how the transaction might be put together…”

Sara Marrs-Maxfield, Port Authority secretary and director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, said the subcommittee will be discussing with Black Elk Biotech what level of involvement, if any, the Port Authority would have in development of the project, as opposed to just selling the land.

Vince said applications will likely be due in June, so he needs to know as soon as possible how the facility will be financed and constructed. He said Black Elk Biotech needs a Tier 1 license from the state, and 12 will be granted statewide.

Vince said owners of Black Elk Biotech include himself, his father Charlie Vince, Scott Holowicki and CropKing Inc. CropKing is a manufacturer and distributor of commercial greenhouse structures, hydroponic growing equipment and supplies, according to its website.

Black Elk has offices in Westerville and at the Ohio University Innovation Center.

Vince said he has worked in the residential real estate development business in Columbus for about 17 years. He said that for past 18 months he and Holowicki have been developing a business plan for the medical marijuana operation, working with consultants in Colorado. A business plan was provided to the Port Authority.