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On Sunday afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed SB 3, making Pennsylvania the 24th medical cannabis state in the country. And with 17 other states offering legal protections for low-THC medical cannabis, there are now 300 million Americans living where their state law is at odds with federal law. The addition of PA as a medical cannabis state will no doubt help the federal picture, but for Pennsylvanian patients who need access to this medicine, the focus now shifts to implementation of the program.
ASA has observed that it typically takes a state anywhere between 18 and 36 months to get their medical cannabis program up and running once their law goes into effect. The challenge for advocates and state officials will be to make sure the program is implemented as swiftly as possible, but without cutting corners or rushing overly-cautious regulations that may harm patient access.
There are essentially three phases that a new medical cannabis state goes through when implementing a new program, (1) drafting regulations; (2) licensing cultivators, processors, labs, and dispensaries; (3) and registering patients and caregivers. To accomplish the first stage, ASA recommends that Pennsylvania looks to the American Herbal Products Association's guidelines for cannabis regulators. States such as Maryland, Nevada, and many others have used these guidelines to draft excellent regulations that ensure product safety. ASA plans to be actively involved with the process to help generate the most patient-focused set of regulations possible.
The licensing stage is often one of the biggest challenges. State regulators admittedly face a tough choice in drafting their license applications. One the one hand, states should include enough detailed questions to ensure that the most qualified parties are licensed to provide medicine for patients. On the other hand, a highly detailed application process can cause delays to the review and selection process. Those delays can mean a longer wait time before dispensaries are finally able to open their doors to patients. Regulators in Pennsylvania should look at what worked and has not worked in other states in order to create a licensing process that moves swiftly, while ensuring highly qualified producers of medicine.
Many states wait until dispensaries are almost ready to open before registering patients. This makes sense in that it can be expensive for patients to become registered and it can be argued that registering patients long before dispensaries open creates false hope for patients seeking medicine. However, this can cause delays in patients speaking with their doctors about medical cannabis therapy. Sometimes it takes several months of longer for patients to educate their physicians in order for them to feel comfortable about recommending. The sooner a state allows patients to register, the sooner patients have these conversations with their physicians.
The signing of SB 3 is a great milestone for Pennsylvania's patients, but there's plenty more work to be done before they have safe and legal access.