COAL TOWNSHIP — The medical marijuana company that finalized its real estate purchase of county land this week is expected to open its grower/processor facility by March.

Krista Krebs, co-owner of Parea BioSciences, and Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano confirmed the deed was signed on Thursday through MNK 03 Holdings, the holding company of Parea BioSciences, for $1.5 million. Parea, which now owns 10 acres of land near the new prison in Coal Township, anticipates 45 jobs this year with a maximum of 120 at the site.

"This has been a longer journey than anyone expected, but the patience of the county was a real boon to the process," Krebs said. "Even before the town hall meeting over a year ago, they saw both the immediate and long-term windfalls that we felt our venture represented to the residents of Northumberland County and to Pennsylvania residents in need of the medicinal products we aim to create."

A staged operating schedule is in place to allow an initial grow cycle to begin in spring, with March being the target opening date. Work will continue in other areas of the site to allow subsequent, larger grows and increased processing capabilities. The pre-operational inspection is scheduled for the beginning of February, Krebs said.

Majority Commissioners Schiccatano and Rick Shoch originally approved the option in May 2018 and the medical marijuana grower/processor was approved for a license in July 2018. Minority Commissioner Kymberley Best opposed it.

"This is great timing for us because next week we will be purchasing new voting machines, which will cost us just over a million dollars," said Schiccatano. "We will be able to use this money to defray that cost and not have to burden the taxpayers with this state mandate to get new machines, when ours are perfectly fine. This sale will also help the municipalities with bringing in needed jobs and hopefully give people using opioids for medical reasons an alternative choice."

It also adds to the savings of the prison project compared to the former Celotex site to around $15 million, Schiccatano said.

"All this would not have been possible without Rick and myself staying the course and doing the right thing, even with all the efforts by others to stop the sale or make it difficult to achieve," he said. "This company has been a pleasure to work with and I want to thank them for not giving up on this project."

Parea already provided the county with $171,000 to hold the property over five extensions. The final $1.329 million was wired to the county Friday, Krebs said.

The agreement with the county allowed for Parea to be on-site making improvements to the land but they assumed the risk if the real estate deal fell through. Gaudenzia Inc., a drug addiction rehabilitation center, had a similar agreement to make renovations or improvements as they waited for lease agreements to be negotiated. The agreement with Gaudenzia was for leasing the property, not to purchase it.

From the start, the proposal hinged on a direct purchase of the proposed grow site from county lands that were not being used or even on the tax rolls, Krebs said.

"The entirety of the purchase price of the land goes to the county," she said. "During the site selection process some privately held properties were considered, but we chose to pursue this location for its viability and the knowledge that the residents of the county would also benefit from the financial gain realized."

The longer-term benefits and goals within the county include a new business bringing great jobs to the area, being able to create and provide educational programs with local schools and colleges in this vital and exciting industry, but also really focus on becoming a hub for research and learning, which in turn would hopefully continue to bring revenue and opportunities to Northumberland County. They also will develop a non-profit to establish educational scholarships, community giving, and other patient-focused programs, Krebs said.

"While we were traveling around the state speaking with mayors about where the gaps were, unanimously they said they were losing their most valuable assets; their young people were leaving in hopes of finding more exciting work and opportunities. Pennsylvania’s very well-formulated MMJ program provides the avenue to reverse that trend," she said.

Ultimately, their longterm goal would benefit all patients within the state of Pennsylvania who would receive the "safe, affordable and beneficial effects" of the state of the art medicine they aim to produce, she said.

"Although the road has been longer than expected, the commissioners’ backing and the support we received at the town hall meeting sustained us and we cannot thank the county and its residents enough for that," she said. "We hope to continue to repay that faith in the months and years to come."

Shamokin city officials in October approved a lease agreement with Parea to use its former tax office for an administrative corporate office. The five-year agreement allows for Parea to rent the city-owned building at 51 E. Lincoln St. for office space at $1,000 a month. City officials moved the tax office next door to 47 E. Lincoln St. in January in anticipation of the agreement.

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