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Former surgeon pioneers cannabis revolution after career-changing accident

Former surgeon pioneers cannabis revolution after career-changing accident

  • Ten years ago, Steve Groff never imagined starting what became Groff North America, a global leader in cannabis research.
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Steve Groff was at the pinnacle of his career in 2011, or so he thought.

A successful spine surgeon, he had helped build up OSS Health from a basic orthopedic practice to a world-class health campus. He was in the best shape of his life. He, his wife, and their three kids were enjoying life at their family farm in Dallastown.

In a split second, all that changed.

While riding his bike in Glen Rock, Steve was struck by a car. With a broken neck, millimeters from being paralyzed for life, Steve found himself on the other side of the surgery table. His fellow surgeons worked to protect his ability to walk with neck fusion surgery.

That moment changed his trajectory and started him down an entrepreneurial path that led to building his cannabis company, Groff North America.

“I would have never taken this risk if it wasn’t for the accident,” Steve says today. “We went through some hellish stuff over the last 10 years to get to this point, but we wouldn’t change it.”

Changing the paradigm

After a long recovery from the accident, Steve realized that performing surgery no longer had the same appeal. He left OSS Health in 2014 and threw himself into transforming the family farm into Wyndridge Farm, a brewery, restaurant, and event venue.

Then the pandemic hit.

Big weddings halted.

The restaurant and brewery shut down.

“COVID really wiped us out,” he says. “It was nearly devastating.”

At the same time, Steve was itching to get back into science and explore a new endeavor.

“I love changing paradigms,” he says, “surprising people with the unexpected.”

Going back to his scientific roots

After his accident, Steve suffered with pain for years and knew firsthand what he calls the rodeo of pain medicine management. He needed opioids to manage the pain but feared their addictive power.

“It was a terrifying experience being on that side of it and knowing everything on the other side,” he says. He began to look deeper into cannabis as an alternative for those in similar situations.

As a licensed physician, Steve began certifying people to use medical cannabis and following their journey. He has certified nearly 4,000 patients and has seen their quality of life rise as they get off opioids and prescription anti-anxiety and depression medications.

“This is legit stuff,” he says. “I’m an old Mennonite farm boy and the last person that would be in cannabis, and yet I’m saying, this is real. This is so much better than all the other prescription nightmares.”

Not for the faint of heart

While medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania, it is still almost impossible to grow, export, or research legally at the federal level, Steve says. 

In 2020, Steve approached the FDA and DEA about creating a federally legal marijuana research facility in Red Lion. As a doctor, he had the background to research and understand the medical implications of THC.

His entrepreneurial spirit put him in a good position to oversee the business side, and a failed hemp fiber business left him with an empty 60,000 square foot facility in Red Lion.

The process took nearly two years.

“This has humbled me,” he says. “It’s taken me through some of the darkest periods of my life to be honest, because of the risk and the challenge, but that’s also what makes you stronger. You realize who you are and where you derive support: your family, your spouse, your teammates. And then when you get to the other side it’s a great feeling, but it can be terrifying. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

It’s about healing

In May 2021, Steve says Groff North America became the only company in the US with a complete suite of six federal licenses: to grow, research and develop, have a schedule 1 analytical lab, extract bulk Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), put these ingredients into patient dose form, and import and export cannabis products.

In January 2022, he harvested his first 60 pounds of high THC marijuana flower.

And at 57, Steve has never been more energized about his career.

He’s building research relationships with some of the top universities, hospitals, and cancer centers in the country. He’s working with partners to research cannabis for use in sleep and as an antimicrobial.  The company is gearing up to expand its growing and research facilities.

“We’re in a position now to help truly change the world of mental health,” he says. “What we’re focused on here is not people getting high; it’s about people healing.”