Ode to Mount Joy, Part I

Something smells about Temple’s decision to build marijuana grow facility in Lancaster County — and it ain’t the weed.

(Photo Left) Temple won't comment on why it's snubbing a  neighborhood location in favor of an out-of-town facility.

Is it possible that Temple University doesn’t realize that the Hispanic neighborhoods stretching to the east of its campus are some of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest big cities in America?

Is it possible that it doesn’t know that Philadelphia’s Hispanic poverty rate is the highest among both the nation’s most populous cities and its poorest large cities, or that the gap between the Hispanic rate and the overall rate is the largest?

Is it possible that Temple University doesn’t realize that, in Philadelphia, census data show that the Hispanic unemployment rate is substantially higher than the citywide rate and that despite the citywide high school non-completion rate of 16.8 percent, 36.7 percent of the city’s Hispanics over age 25 have not completed high school?

These questions arise in light of the stories coming out of Lancaster County that Temple intends to build a marijuana grow/processing/research facility in, of all places, Mount Joy, PA.

According to lancasteronline.com: “A medical-marijuana grower affiliated with Temple University wants to build a facility costing $8 million to $10 million in Mount Joy Borough. Laurel Harvest Labs presented a sketch plan for the growing and research facility to the borough Planning Commission in November. The start up company’s building … would have up to 90 employees in three to five years, a Laurel Harvest Labs executive said … Temple University School of Medicine would have researchers at the Mount Joy facility, seeing which strains of marijuana are most effective for treating various conditions.”

Now, you might ask what any of this has to do with levels of Hispanic poverty and unemployment in the City of Philadelphia?

It turns out, there happens to be a 98,000 square foot vacant warehouse, sitting on over 14 acres of vacant property, less than a mile from the heart of Temple University’s Conwell Hall; a property uniquely positioned to house the very facility Temple intends to build 100 miles west in Lancaster County. It’s a viable location that Temple University officials were well aware of.

Ten months ago, three elected officials who represent the neighborhoods around Temple asked University officials to consider building their grow facility at Second Street and Erie Avenue. Congressman Robert A. Brady, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and State Senator Sharif Street sent a letter to Larry Kaiser, president and CEO of Temple University Health System, bringing to his attention the economic impact that a marijuana grow facility at Second and Erie would have: “… the property will generate some $10 - $15 million dollars in investment to the North Philadelphia community and create, when fully operational, between 50-70 full-time well-paying jobs (approximately $2 million dollars in annual wage compensation).”

 Temple did not respond to the letter.

Six months ago, Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez wrote a letter to Temple board chairman Pat O’Connor reiterating the call to build this facility at Second and Erie. It called for the University to demand of its grower, Laurel Harvest Labs, to commit to a local community benefits agreement that would contribute $1 million of its annual revenues to local community groups and schools.

Still, not a peep from Temple.

Then, last month, Temple broke its silence. Well kind of. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the electeds were told, through a lawyer representing Laurel Harvest Labs, that the proposed Second and Erie facility was too close to a school.

Of course, this did not sit well with the elected, the Inky reports: “…The trio say they didn’t buy the explanation. Though state law requires dispensaries to be set back 1,000 feet from a school, neither the state nor the Philadelphia zoning code requires any setback for a marijuana growing facility.

The chairman of Temple’s board of trustees, Patrick J. O’Connor, did not respond to requests for comment. O’Connor is the cofounder and former president of Cozen O’Connor, one of the city’s most powerful law firms. Cozen O’Connor attorney Mark Alderman represents Temple’s grower, Laurel Harvest Labs.

‘I can’t get an answer from them,’ Brady said in an interview. ‘You talk about casinos being wired up, this is totally wired up.’”

Next week: What could Brady mean by “wired up.”


Ode to Mount Joy, Part I

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Liberty City Press is an independent weekly newspaper distributed by the Philadelphia Multi-Cultural Media Network whose members include Philadelphia Sunday Sun, The Philadelphia Gay News, Al Dia, The Metro Chinese Weekly and The Metro Viet News.

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