Medical Marijuana In Pennsylvania: A Primer
By: John A. Schwab
Although signed into law in April 2016, Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program is still very much a work in progress. Pennsylvania patients have only recently been able to receive medical marijuana at approved dispensaries – and only for approved “serious medical conditions.” There are 17 – soon to be 21 – approved conditions which include ALS, autism, cancer, Crohn’s, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and PTSD.
Interested patients must register by completing an online profile on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website called the “Patient and Caregiver Registry” – before obtaining a physician’s certification stating that he or she has one of the approved conditions. This month, opioid addiction disorder was approved by the Department of Health as a “serious medical condition” for use of medical marijuana. Pennsylvania is one of the first states to approve medical marijuana for opioid addiction.
With physician certification, the patient returns to the Registry to purchase a medical marijuana identity card. The card will allow the patient, or his or her caregiver, to obtain medical marijuana from an approved dispensary. Caregivers needing to provide medical marijuana to a minor follow a similar process, but may also request a Safe Harbor letter.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is quick to emphasize that participation in the Medical Marijuana Program does not provide immunity from federal prosecution. As readers likely know, the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule I substance, like heroin and cocaine – indicating their view that marijuana has no legitimate medical use and a high potential for abuse. However, Pennsylvania Department of Health literature also notes that criminal investigations and charges or civil enforcement actions, “may be unlikely” as long as the patients, physicians, dispensaries and growers/processors are in conformance with the Medical Marijuana Program’s laws. The Department points to U.S. Department of Justice guidance for that statement which can be found here.
Physicians interested in certifying patients under the program follow a similar process; They register on the state’s Physician’s Registry which triggers a validation of the physician’s medical license. The physicians must then complete a mandatory 4-hour training course provided by an approved Department of Health provider. The last step is a final review and approval by the Department of Health to become an approved “Practitioner” able to issue patient certifications for the approved serious medical conditions.
Medical marijuana will only be dispensed from approved dispensaries, not pharmacies. The approval process requires aspiring dispensaries to obtain a permit through demonstration of sufficient controls to prevent diversion, abuse, or illegal conduct, sufficient capital (at least $150,000), a diversity plan, and payment of a non-refundable fee of $5,000 and a $30,000 fee that’s refundable if the permit isn’t granted. Successful permit applicants must complete a 2-hour training course. Growers and processors use a similar process to obtain a permit by showing sufficient controls, proof of at least $2 million in capital and payment of a $100,000 non-refundable fee and a $200,000 fee that is refundable if the permit isn’t approved.
The Take Away
As of this writing, there are over 10,000 approved patients, 200 approved physician “Practitioners,” 16 approved dispensaries, and 12 approved growers/processors. If you need assistance in completing and complying with the paperwork for your dispensary, please contact a member of our Business Group. If you need assistance navigating an investigation or civil enforcement action, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our White-Collared team today.