A region of the Keystone State impoverished by industrial decline and ravaged by opioid addiction sees a future in medical cannabis. The promise of big profits and job creation continues to draw communities to the legal marijuana industry, particularly in places where the economy has long suffered.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in southwestern Pennsylvania.
City leaders in Braddock, located east of Pittsburgh, have submitted an application with the state in hopes to land a license that will allow for a new cannabis cultivation facility. The goal is for legal medical marijuana to bring back jobs lost over the past decades by the decline in the steel industry.
They have partnered with a company that includes a Pennsylvania legend among its top executives: Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The company has a goal of his own: finding out if marijuana can become an effective pain management medicine that replaces opioids.
In many places, such as in California and Colorado, businesses and communities vie against each other to win potentially lucrative licenses from the state for creating and operating marijuana cultivation centers and retail outlets. However, in a place such as Braddock, leaders see it as a means of survival.
Braddock has been decimated by the jobs lost with cutbacks in the steel industry since the late 1980s. The city’s economic state landed it on the Pennsylvania Act 47 roll of financially distressed cities. Braddock has been on the list since 1988.
In numerous media appearances, Mayor John Fetterman thinks a large medical marijuana cultivation center can change the town’s fortunes. As many as 70 new jobs would be created at the outset, and the city would reap the tax benefits of having the facility in town.
“It’s a great story to have with a community that’s been kind of left behind by an industry in decline like steel to be resurrected financially from a brand new industry that didn’t even exist in Pennsylvania six months ago,” Fetterman said in a Facebook Live interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
State lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf approved medical marijuana in Pennsylvania in 2016.
Braddock already faces competition for the license from nearby McKeesport, which also plans to submit an application. The state has said it will only allow a limited number of facilities within six different regions of the state.