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A Johnstown medical marijuana grower is now shipping its product across the state.

Hanging Gardens, which set up inside a former Cambria Iron machine shop, has received the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s approval to begin supplying products such as tinctures, lotions and dry-leaf cannabis to Pennsylvania’s licensed dispensaries.

Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle confirmed the move, saying the Johnstown-based company is one of just five in the second phase of permit awardees to take the step.

Messages to Hanging Gardens officials for comment weren’t returned.

But the group talked about its start-up intentions with The Tribune-Democrat last year, while a massive effort was still underway to transform the 40,000-square-foot Iron Street mill into a sterile lab and storage space.

Hanging Gardens Chief Operating Officer Ethan Moon said samples from parent plants would be used to grow consistent batches throughout the year inside illuminated hydroponic grow rooms.

He estimated that Hanging Gardens would employ 75 people once shipping began – and hopefully grow from there.

Johnstown Councilman Chuck Arnone said Wednesday he wishes the company well.

“I know they have some big ideas and I’m glad to see them moving forward into their next phase,” Arnone said.

Hanging Gardens’ effort to rejuvenate an idle Johnstown mill is just one part of a larger effort to bring new life to that corner of the city, he noted.

The Center for Metal Arts moved into the industrial corridor in 2018 and plans are underway to run the Iron to Arts Corridor through the neighborhood. Efforts are also in motion to improve access to the former Rosedale tract, which is being marketed for new development.

“Hopefully this is the start of something even bigger and better,” Arnone said.

Security, standards

The state developed a more-than 50-page operational “checklist” of requirements that companies must meet before receiving approval to begin operation. Wardle said Tuesday the company had to reach “full compliance” to be permitted

to ship.

Products must be tested by an independent lab for contents and consistency, the state has said.

They must also be electronically tracked – enabling the state to follow inventory from the growing facility to the service counter when a customer pays for it.

Six pages in the state’s checklist are dedicated to security and surveillance, requiring camera systems, professional security and both audible and silent alarms.

As a grower and processor, the company is only permitted to sell its products to state-licensed dispensaries.

Last year, Moon said a team of security officers will be tasked with ensuring strict procedures are followed.

The security team will be able monitor the building through a system of cameras and would also oversee deliveries to dispensary buyers from a secure shipping area, he said at the time.

Growing industry

Hanging Gardens is now one of 23 licensed growers operating across Pennsylvania, Wardle said. But only 16 are shipping – all but five of them from the initial permit phase.

The network of independent growers is relied on to supply medical cannabis products to Pennsylvania’s approximately 80 dispensaries – Beyond/Hello and HARVEST in downtown Johnstown included – that serve nearly 300,000 registered medical marijuana patients.

That’s a growing total that mirrors the population of Pittsburgh.

It’s also a total that ranks Pennsylvania’s number of registered marijuana program patient count among the three largest in the nation, according to the the longtime Washington, D.C., nonprofit and lobbying group Marijuana Policy Project.

Pennsylvania has permitted dispensaries to continue selling medical marijuana as an “essential business” during the COVID-19 pandemic. But dispensaries must follow strict health guidelines, limiting the number of customers who can enter at any time and enabling phone-in orders to streamline their transaction process.

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David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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