By J. Harvard Feldhouse
Youngstown is revolutionizing the budding medical marijuana industry in Ohio. This revolution could have a positive economic impact on students at Youngstown State University and workers in the job-hungry Mahoning Valley.
Medical marijuana use in Ohio was legalized in 2016 with House Bill 523 by the Ohio Legislature. Since then, hundreds of companies applied for cultivation, processing, testing and dispensary licenses from the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.
Currently, there are 29 cultivation facilities, 38 processing facilities, five testing facilities and nine dispensaries licensed in the state of Ohio. More companies are expected to apply as the program grows.
U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan, D-OH, is a staunch supporter of medical marijuana legalization and is pushing to legalize it federally. He believes medical marijuana will have a large economic impact in Northeast Ohio.
“[Medical marijuana] is going to be a job creator in the state, and people are going to want to be in on that,” Ryan said. “It’s a very sophisticated process. They’re growing plants to treat very specific diseases, and it requires more knowledge than people think. The growers are some of the smartest people you meet.”
Daniel Kessler, CEO of Riviera Creek Holdings LLC, a Youngstown-based cultivation facility for medical marijuana, said he believes Youngstown can become a “mini epicenter” of where the industry is headed.
“Ohio is a very big market medically, and we are so ahead of this,” Kessler said. “The type of science and technology we do is leading, cutting edge and dedicated to science and innovation. There’s no reason why that can’t extend into careers in this industry and area.”
Kessler said Riviera Creek plans to have future internship opportunities with YSU students as the company continues to expand in the next few years.
“In the future, definitely yes,” Kessler said. “We’re still establishing our human resources protocol, but there will be an intern program. Along with general office management, we will be looking for students in biology, plant biology, cultivation and fields like that.”
FarmaceuticalRX LLC is another local medical marijuana company with eyes on developing an internship program and creating jobs in the Mahoning Valley.
FRX, based in Farrell, Pennsylvania, has a cultivation facility and processing center in Farrell, as well as a processing center and dispensary, registered as FRX Health, in East Liverpool, Ohio.
Joe Jeffries, pharmacy director at FRX, said he thinks medical marijuana will bring a lot of jobs to the Ohio and the Mahoning Valley. The biggest demand will be in horticulture and chemical engineering for cultivation, chemistry and genetics for processing and pharmacy for dispensaries.
“From an economic standpoint, [the medical marijuana industry] can only be good,” Jeffries said. “There are many jobs in this industry, especially in cultivation and processing. With the taxes involved, the potential is fantastic for Ohio, being a highly populated state.”
Current and future YSU students that want to break through in the industry should visit the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and Bitonte College of Health and Human Services for the appropriate majors.