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Melissa Etheridge gives hemp and marijuana entrepreneur a hand

Wednesday July 13, 2016 12:01 AM

A Maidencreek Township entrepreneur announced Tuesday a business plan to develop an industrial hemp company and medical marijuana grower-processor and dispensary business headquartered in Berks County.

Trisha Hessinger owns a 41-acre farm in Maidencreek Township, and her husband,¬†Geoff Whaling, said he has formed a holding company, AgriNextusa, that will focus on growing and processing industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is a plant related to marijuana, but is not intoxicating.Whaling said a subsidiary, Pennsylvania Harvest, will be AgriNext’s hemp growing and processing company.

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Center of hemp production

Pennsylvania Harvest will work with farmers in Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon and Lehigh counties who are interested in growing this crop in 2017. Pennsylvania Harvest is also looking to site the first multi-million-dollar decortification plant in Pennsylvania. Decortification is the removal of the outer covering from a plant, seed or root.

Whaling and administrative director Erica McBride said Pennsylvania could become the center of hemp production.McBride and Whaling said startup costs are estimated around $5 million.

Medical marijuana subsidiary

Whaling also announced the formation of Keystone Green MMJ, a company focused on medical marijuana. If the company is able to obtain a state license, it wants to establish a growing facility in Berks on lands the partnership already owns.

Through Keystone, Whaling and his business partners will explore obtaining state licenses to vertically integrate medical marijuana growing processing with dispensaries in Berks, Lehigh and Lebanon counties.AgriNext has an exclusive partnership with Stanley Brothers, the marijuana grower from Colorado that grows Charlotte’s Web, a hemp oil inspired by a young girl, Charlotte Figi, who had epileptic seizures. Her story and the impact of the specially grown high-cannabidiol, low-THC marijuana was the focus of a CNN documentary “Weed.”Whaling has also formed a related charity, 4Advocates Foundation, that will fund advocacy efforts of Campaign for Compassion, the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council and other organizations. 4Advocates will receive a percentage of profits from the businesses, he said. He did not say how much.

Investors

Medical marijuana became law in April, and the state department of health is in the process of writing the regulations to oversee its implementation. Experts say a medical marijuana startup business takes an investment of $5 to $10 million.

Whaling, a former motorsports promoter and Canadian tourism official, declined to say how much money he has invested, but outlined the partnership of AgriNext. In a news release, he said along with GWW LLC, the founding managing partners include Seize the Day Industries of Oley Valley and former Philadelphia Flyer, Riley Cote. Cote is founder of Hemp Heals Foundation.Whaling is a longtime friend of singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, a marijuana advocate who spoke at the news conference at DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, Reading. She was in town for a concert Tuesday night. She commended the approximately 30 advocates of hemp and medical marijuana who gathered at the hotel.Also on hand were state senators Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat, and Mike Folmer, a Lebanon Republican, who co-sponsored hemp legislation and were involved with the medical marijuana law.Schwank said hemp holds economic and environmental promise.”It’s in our DNA,” said Folmer, citing the history of growing hemp in Pennsylvania and communities named Hempfield.The Pennsylvania House recently approved a bill to create a pilot program for industrial hemp research. The Senate approved similar legislation in March.

Variety of products

Hemp can be used to make a variety of products, including fabric, paper and fuel. The crop is also used to rehabilitate farmland. Advocates tout its potential to rejuvenate brownfield sites in cities.

Republican State Rep. Russ Diamond sponsored the House bill. Under his proposal, the state Department of Agriculture and colleges would oversee hemp research programs.A similar bill that passed the Senate was sponsored by Schwank.Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has voiced his support.Growing hemp was banned in the 1950s as the federal government targeted marijuana. Recent federal legislation eased restrictions on growing hemp, allowing states to launch pilot programs.Contact Lisa Scheid: 610-371-5026 or lscheid@readingeagle.com.


Lisa Scheid |
Lisa Scheid is a business reporter at the Reading Eagle.
Phone: 5049
Email: lscheid@readingeagle.com

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