Oak Parker Stephen Schuler made national headlines on Oct. 11 with the announcement that medical cannabis company MedMen has entered into an agreement to purchase the Oak Park-based PharmaCann LLC for $682 million.

Schuler is the lead investor and has served as executive director of the company’s board of directors.

The news comes only a few weeks after the Los Angeles-based MedMen announced its plan to purchase the local medical cannabis dispensary Seven Point, 1132 Lake St.

The PharmaCann deal is one of the biggest in the history of the cannabis industry.

“This is a transformative acquisition that will create the largest U.S. cannabis company in the world’s largest cannabis market,” MedMen chief executive officer Adam Bierman said in a press release announcing the deal.

The deal is notable in Oak Park not only because of the numbers involved but also because of its connection to local entrepreneur and philanthropist Stephen Schuler, who along with his wife, Mary Jo Schuler, have donated to various charitable organizations and backed a variety of business ventures in the village, including the Marion Street Cheese Market and Greenline Wheels.

Stephen Schuler, who helped launch PharmaCann in 2014, also ran for the Oak Park School District 200 Board in 2015 but withdrew his candidacy months before the election, stating: “After further consideration of the talented slate of candidates, in addition to several other personal and professional factors, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for District 200.”

The press release put out on Oct. 11 by PharmaCann notes that the all-stock transaction with PharmaCann would give MedMen “a portfolio of cannabis licenses in 12 states that will permit the combined company to operate 79 cannabis facilities.”

PharmaCann currently operates dispensaries in Arlington Heights, Evanston, North Aurora and Ottawa and production facilities in Dwight and Hillcrest, according to the company’s website.

The MedMen press release says PharmaCann is among the largest medical cannabis companies in the country, operating 10 dispensaries and three cultivation facilities in Illinois, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts. “The company also owns licenses for retail stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, and cultivation and production licenses in all of its markets, excluding Maryland,” the MedMen press release notes.

The company rebranded earlier this year under the name Verilife, according to the publication Cannabis Dispensary magazine.

A story published by Cannabis Dispensary in July quotes PharmaCann director of public and regulatory affairs Jeremy Unruh, who says the aim is to make the Verilife facilities “as aesthetically pleasing to a 78-year-old with Parkinson’s as it is to a 30-year-old who may be treating a chronic pain condition.”

Wednesday Journal interviewed Unruh in August, following a PharmaCann press release announcing the company’s work developing a “first-of-its-kind” capsule designed to absorb better and have longer-lasting and more reliable effects.

The so-called self-emulsifying drug delivery system technology “has been widely used in the nutrition, nutraceutical, biotech and pharmaceutical industries, and has been shown to significantly improve the absorption of everything from antivirals to immunosuppressant drugs,” according to the press release issued in late July.

Unruh said the drug delivery capsules aim to “make sure a higher percentage of the active ingredient is available to the body.”

“This self-emulsifying technology has been proven in other pharmaceuticals but not cannabis,” he said in the interview.

PharmaCann’s goal was to bring a mainstream pharmaceutical sensibility and process to the products sold “so patients know what they’re getting, and they’re getting the same thing every time,” Unruh said.

The pending sales of PharmaCann and Seven Point dispensary both come about a month after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill authored by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) making it easier and faster for patients to acquire medical cannabis cards.

The Alternatives to Opioids Act allows patients who have been prescribed opioid-based drugs to instead get a temporary medical-cannabis card.

The new law, which went into effect upon Rauner’s signature, also allows those prescribed medical cannabis to get a temporary card, giving them immediate access to the drug. Prior to the new law cardholders have experienced months-long waits before their cards are made available.

Although PharmaCann’s focus has been on the medical cannabis industry its pending sale and that of the local dispensary Seven Point also could be in anticipation of legalization of the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois.

Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker has said on the campaign trail that if elected he will approve legalization of the drug for recreational use.

tim@oakpark.com

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