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Retired policeman wants to open medical marijuana dispensary

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ELLEN F. O CONNELL/Staff Photographer Jeff Turse wants to establish a medical marijuana dispensary in the Franklin Corporate Center in Hazle Township where his store, Atomic Vapors, is closing today. Turse also wants to use an already-vacant storefront to the left of his.

ELLEN F. O CONNELL/Staff PhotographerJeff Turse is hoping to establish a medical marijuana dispensary in the Franklin Corporate Center in Hazle Township where his store, Atomic Vapors, is closing today. Turse also wants to use an already-vacant storefront next to his. Jeff Turse is eying a career change that could take him from law enforcement to Luzerne County s lone state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. The retired Hazleton police officer recently launched a social media page dedicated to Thera Green, a medical marijuana dispensary that he and a partner hope to launch in Hazle Township. Competition will be stiff, as the state Department of Health reports on its website that it will issue no more than 50 permits for dispensaries as Pennsylvania ushers in the medical marijuana industry.

Turse, however, is confident that his background in law enforcement and the steps the partnership has taken to put the framework in place for a successful business make Thera Green as good a candidate as any.

I know four (other) companies that are applying and, from the research I have done, they re very big, Turse said. We re the small guys. We re hoping for the shot. We re trying to do this because we have a passion for it. He declined to identify his partner at this point. Since leaving the city s police department in 2015, Turse devoted his time to running Atomic Vapors from a storefront at the Franklin Corporate Center along Airport Beltway. The business, like many others, struggled to stay afloat since the state levied steep wholesale and floor taxes on Pennsylvania s vape industry, he said.

Atomic Vapors will close today and he plans to convert the vape shop and an empty storefront next to it into a high-security medical marijuana dispensary.

I think it s going to be a huge benefit for the township if we do get it here, Turse said. There s always expansion on this beltway. (Plus) it s bigger tax revenue for them. Turse, of Eagle Rock, said he opted to continue doing business in Hazle Township because of its business-friendly atmosphere. The township supervisors adopted ordinances recognizing the industry in November 2014. He said he reached out to the board of supervisors about Thera Green and that his plans were generally well received.

Career change

Having served as a cop, Turse said he s often been asked why he wants to get involved in Pennsylvania s medical marijuana program.

Being a police officer, I saw so much opiate abuse, heroin abuse, he said. Turse disagrees with the old school mentality of drug counselors who consider marijuana a gateway drug.

New age counselors, he said, will point to doctors who more frequently prescribe opiates. Patients who for extended periods have relied on opiates for managing pain or coping with illness don t realize they ve become addicted, Turse said.

When the doctor finally cuts them off they try and find the pills, Turse explained. When they can t find the pills on the street, it s easier to find a harder drug. Maybe in some way we can help reduce the opiate abuse. Maybe we can even stop them from getting to that point.

With a medical marijuana dispensary up and running, Turse said doctors could perhaps prescribe pills on a short-term basis and let patients transition to medical marijuana for longer-term recovery. On a personal level, Turse can rattle off a list of family members and friends who are either suffering with or have died from cancer.

I watched my grandmother and my grandfather struggle with cancer, he said. Ultimately the reason they died they couldn t eat. It s affected me with six people I can think of just off the top of my head. Medical marijuana can help cancer patients who are dealing with nausea or have issues with their appetite, he said.

Cancer is one of multiple medical conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana under state Act 16. Other conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use include autism, cancer, Crohn s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Huntington s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, intractable seizures, multiple sclerosis, neuropathies, Parkinson s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and sickle cell anemia. Building a business

The proposed dispensary isn t a fly-by-night operation, Turse assures. He and his partner have spent significant money preparing the application, as well as designs for using space that housed the vape shop and a neighboring storefront.

The partnership hired a legal team from Harrisburg, a lobbyist, as well as consultants from the Colorado-based American Cannabis Co. Turse describes the latter as founders of the medical marijuana industry. All three have assisted in completing Thera Green s application, he said.

I think we ve brought on the best team we possibly could, he said. These are the guys who know best about this industry. The consulting firm will set up the physical dispensary, hold a job fair and handle all background checks and hirings, and work hand-in-hand with a surveillance company installing camera and alarm systems, he said. He described the application process as extremely tedious. A board of directors has been assembled and consists of a local attorney, a CEO of a security company and a pediatrician who will serve as medical adviser, Turse said.

Turse said he s been in talks with a retired police officer for operating and maintaining security systems. The head of security will also be responsible for transporting product to the dispensary, he said. A posting on Thera Green s social media page said the partnership is looking to fill several positions, including a certified pharmacist, nurse practitioner, a physician s assistant or retired or part-time physician. At least two employees will be able to speak Spanish, he said.

We want to hit all the hiccups you re going to find in a store, Turse said. With a dispensary, it s not so much a sale it s that you re helping the person. Operating hours haven t been finalized, but Turse said he has no plans to do business at night.

When you open at night, you just look for more problems.

How it works

The business will likely consist of a waiting area and an area for the actual dispensary, he said. Inventory will be tracked with point-of-sale software that develops a footprint of marijuana or from seed to sale as it s known in the industry, Turse said.

If grower ABC has a plant and it s assigned a number, we ll know which number (it has), the plant it came from, all the way up to the patient, he explained. At any given point, the state can call up our inventory we have in house. If they re going to send someone out to do an inspection, they can walk in with a printout (and) do a full-blown inventory. Inspections are stringent.

If we re off by the littlest bit, we re instantly shut down, he said. It s very strict, the way the state is going to do it.

Patients should have no problem accessing the business since the proposed location is along a local bus route, he said. Thera Green also plans to work out a deal with a local cab company and pay to have military, police, firefighter and EMS patients who have prescriptions driven to the business at no cost, he said. The firm will pick up the tab for veterans and civil servants as a gesture of appreciation for their service, he said. Any other people can pay a reduced rate for the cab ride, with Thera Green paying the balance. Safeguards

Turse likened the proposed dispensary to a doctor s office with the security of Fort Knox.

To get inside, patients must have a state-issued medical marijuana identification card and either a recommendation or prescription from a doctor, and will have their photo taken and thumbprint scanned, he said.

Now we know you are with that card and we store that forever, he said. If that thumbprint doesn t match you don t even get through the front door. Once inside, they will be greeted by an armed security guard and instructed to have a seat in a waiting area, he said. The waiting room will be separated from the dispensary. All completed paperwork will be handed to a receptionist. Once the prescription or recommendation is verified, a patient will be granted access to the dispensary area and will be accompanied by a salesperson, he said.

A pharmacist will dispense the medication. Security is paramount, as a window for example must have a camera and motion sensor dedicated specifically to that area. Inventory will be stored in a safe similar to those used by jewelers and firearms dealers, he said. Motion, vibration and heat sensors as well as a surveillance system will be installed at the entrance, he said.

This is like a mini-Fort Knox by the time it s done, he said.

Turse said he spoke with a couple of local doctors who were receptive to the idea. Doctors who wish to prescribe or recommend medical marijuana must complete a training program offered by the state. Other doctors have said they have no intention of getting involved, but would have the ability to refer patients who are interested in the program to a participating physician, Turse said. Medical marijuana will be available in liquid, or concentrate form, which he said has a consistency resembling a dark honey. It must be warmed before it is dispensed in pods and issued to a patient.

It will also be available in forms that are similar to vapes, tincture which Turse described as a gel-like substance lotions and creams.

There s no flower no physical marijuana leaf material of any kind, he said. Turse believes the proposed location makes sense, especially since a cancer center is stationed across the highway and Lehigh Valley Health Network s Health & Wellness Center is a short drive down the road as is land eyed for either a future medical center or hospital. Projected opening

Applications for dispensaries and growers/processors must be filed with the state by March 20. Licenses will be issued following a 90-day review period, he said.

Applications are ranked by score and approved dispensaries will have six months from the date an application is approved to be operational, he said. If the state rules on applications by June or July, Thera Green would work to open by either September or October, he said. Turse said he had an opportunity to open a recreational marijuana business or dispensary in Colorado, but wants to stay in his hometown.

We love our community, he said. We want to do a good, honest business. That s why we want to stay here.

Sid Salter: Will the state cash in on Trump’s Navy?

Sid Salter: Will The State Cash In On Trump's Navy?

Sid Salter(Photo: Special to The Clarion-Ledger)

STARKVILLE During the 2016 session last year, the majority of the Republican-led Mississippi Legislature ignored tea party protestations and passed a state bond bill that provided $45 million for capital improvements at the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula. Ingalls employs some 11,000 workers and is a bedrock component of south Mississippi s economy. Ingalls was lured to Mississippi in 1938 to locate its shipyard in Pascagoula under Gov. Hugh White s Balance Agriculture with Industry program. The 2016 move drew sharp criticism of state lawmakers and their leadership from critics, who questioned the wisdom of state taxpayers providing $45 million in capital improvements at the Ingalls Pascagoula facility.

Critics called the bond bill crony capitalism and said it exemplified our state s poorly executed long-term economic plans, which is evidenced by irrational spending in many of our bond bills, not to mention a lack of reform in our overall business climate. Fast-forward to the present. How does that investment of capital improvements at Ingalls look in the rear-view mirror? During the long 2016 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump on Oct. 28 pledged to build a 350-ship U.S. Navy as part of his effort to implement the most serious plan for rebuilding the U.S. military since Ronald Reagan was president.

As part of the Oct. 28 statement, the Trump campaign said: Mr. Trump has also proposed building toward a 350-ship Navy, as recommended by the bipartisan National Defense Panel. This includes a significant investment in both new undersea and surface combatants, which means significant new work for facilities like the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The U.S. Navy, as reported by the Associated Press last month, is even more ambitious than Trump in calling for a 355-ship Navy:

Boosting shipbuilding to meet the Navy’s 355-ship goal could require an additional $5 billion to $5.5 billion in annual spending in the Navy’s 30-year projection,” according to an estimate by naval analyst Ronald O’Rourke at the Congressional Research Service.

The Navy’s revised Force Structure Assessment calls for adding another 47 ships including an aircraft carrier built in Virginia, 16 large surface warships built in Maine and Mississippi, and 18 attack submarines built in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Virginia. It also calls for more amphibious assault ships, expeditionary transfer docks and support ships. Mississippi plays an increasingly vital role in U.S. defense shipbuilding, as noted by analyst and formal naval officer Steve Stashwick writing for The Diplomat:

Since 1985, all U.S. major surface combatants cruisers, destroyers, and frigates have been built at one of two shipyards, Bath Iron Works in Maine, and Ingalls shipbuilding in Mississippi. Nuclear submarines are built at one of two yards in Connecticut and Virginia, and all nuclear aircraft carriers are constructed at a single shipyard in Virginia. This has concentrated a lot of expertise and experience in a relatively small group of shipbuilders.

Trade publication The Maritime Executive reported this week that Huntington Ingalls is expanding operations and that its Pascagoula shipyard is leading the way in earnings. The Pascagoula shipyard builds amphibious assault ships, large deck amphibious ships and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy. Notably, the Mississippi facility also has the contract for the new national security cutters for the U.S. Coast Guard. Should Mississippi have invested in Ingalls? Well, every shipbuilding nation on the planet subsidizes the industry in their countries. In the U.S., every state that has shipbuilders likewise invests in trying to retain those shipyard jobs Virginia lawmakers gave Newport News Shipbuilding $46 million last year. Sound familiar? Whether Trump keeps his campaign pledge will depend on whether Congress provides the estimated additional $10 billion in federal funding. That s daunting. But supporting Ingalls given the subsidies in the rest of the country seems to have been an inarguably good bet.

Sid Salter is a contributing columnist. Contact him at .

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Dianne Williamson: Eyes on a wave of hate

Dianne Williamson Telegram & Gazette Staff @WilliamsonTG

On an unseasonably warm afternoon last week, preschool children at the Jewish Community Center in Worcester played happily with a sticky substance called gloop while an armed guard basked in the sun on the outside steps. Excluding special events, it’s the first time the JCC has felt the need for armed security in its 70-year history. The guard was hired a couple of weeks ago, after the second bomb threat was received here amid a wave of threats at JCCs across the nation.

“We haven’t been speaking about the bomb threats,” said local director Emily Holdstein, who declined to discuss specifics of the threats other than to confirm their existence. “It really is a national issue. But yes, we’ve upped our security … I really don’t know why it’s happening now, but a lot of people have speculated.”

The uptick of anti-Semitism in American is concerning to local Jewish leaders, many of whom said that the current political climate has emboldened the rise of such sentiments that have always lurked under the surface. And while they were hesitant to blame President Donald Trump, they said they’re disappointed with his tepid response and urged him to send a more forceful message against hate.

“When there’s more tension in the air, anti-Semitism seems to be more vocal,” said Steven Schimmel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts. “It’s brought people out of the woodwork. The president needs to be thinking about this because it’s a rising issue.”

Since January alone, 67 bomb threats have been made against Jewish community centers in 27 states around the country. Last Monday, a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was desecrated, with more than 100 headstones overturned. Swastikas have been spray-painted on the streets of New York, and online anti-Semitic threats and hate speech have increased. Two Worcester rabbis said they’ve heard from more parents who tell them their children have experienced anti-Jewish comments from their classmates and even some teachers. Rabbi Valerie Cohen, who came to Temple Emanuel Sinai in 2014, agreed that “prejudice has been given permission to come out” and people feel more comfortable disparaging Jews and those who are different from them.

“I’ve heard about more incidents in the past few months than in the close to three years I’ve been here,” Rabbi Cohen said. “The political climate has made it acceptable.”

Rabbi Aviva Fellman of Congregation Beth Israel said she, too, has seen an increase in the number of parents who have sought her advice about speaking to their children about anti-Semitism.

“I’m hearing a lot of it,” she said. “I’ve told them to be honest with their children and validate their feelings. It can be scary.”

Trump’s better-late-than-never statement condemning anti-Semitism Tuesday – only when it became politically damaging not to do so – followed a troubling silence from a leader never shy to condemn a host of issues ranging from “fake news” to the comedy of “Saturday Night Live.” He declined several opportunities in news conferences to speak out against the threats, and even brusquely shut down an Orthodox Jewish journalist who asked about the growing anti-Semitism, calling the question “very insulting” and telling him to sit down. Even more jarring was the official White House tribute last month on Holocaust Memorial Day, which failed to mention Jewish people at all. It’s a common tactic of anti-Semites to play down the victimization of Jews in the Holocaust. Nonethless, Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus defended the statement, saying, “I mean, everyone s suffering in the Holocaust, including, obviously, all of the Jewish people. Rabbi Cohen noted that Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced visit last week to damaged gravestones in the St. Louis Jewish cemetery and gave a forceful speech condemning anti-Semitism.

“That’s what a political leader does,” she said. “That creates respect from Americans.”

Rabbi Cohen came to Worcester from Jackson, Mississippi, and expressed a troubling observation.

“I think there’s a lot more prejudice in Central Massachusetts than we give it credit for,” she said. “Our community is not as open-minded as we think. We’ve been very naive.”

At the JCC on Salisbury Street, Holdstein said the bomb threats and anti-Semitism won’t be solved by local law enforcement. She said she’s been in touch with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern and, while she’s disappointed in the response from the White House, she’s hopeful more federal emphasis and resources will be devoted to the problem.

“I’m a person of eternal hope and I want to give the White House the benefit of the doubt as long as I can,” she said. “If it doesn’t start at the top, where else would it come from?”