Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Laws & Regulations

On April 17, 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law SB 3, Pennsylvania’s compassionate medical cannabis legislation. The Senate first approved the bill on May 12, 2015, and it was subsequently revised and approved by the House on March 14-16, 2016. The Senate made technical changes to the bill and sent it back to the House on April 12, and it received final approval in the House on April 13, 2016.

Qualified Medical Conditions

Patients can qualify for medical cannabis if they have a terminal illness or if they suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, autism, sickle cell anemia, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin, or if conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.

Certifying Physicians

To qualify for the program, a patient must be under the ongoing care of a physician who issues a certification during an in-person visit. The certification must state that the patient has a qualifying medical condition and that the physician believes he or she could benefit from medical cannabis. Physicians must register, complete a four-hour course, and report to The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) if a patient no longer needs access to medical cannabis as a result of improved health or death.

Regulatory Authority

DOH is responsible for implementing the program, including developing rules, processing applications, and issuing patient ID cards and licenses. The law creates an advisory board established to make recommendations to DOH. The board will be comprised of 15 members, including three law enforcement members, several health or medical experts, and at least one patient advocate. Two years after the law takes effect (May 2018), the board will issue a report including recommendations regarding access to dry leaf or plant cannabis. DOH will then accept or reject its recommendations and will have 18 months to promulgate rules based on the board’s report.

Usage Limitations

The only types of medical cannabis allowed initially are pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquid, and non-whole plant forms for administration through vaporization. Dispensaries cannot sell edibles, but medical cannabis products could be mixed into food or drinks to facilitate ingestion by a patient in a facility or residence. Vaporization is allowed, and smoking is prohibited. Following the issuance of the board’s report, DOH could promulgate a rule that would allow patient access to dry leaf cannabis.

Health Insurance

Government medical assistance programs and private health insurers are not required to reimburse any costs involved with the use of medical cannabis or any costs associated with an employer having to make accommodations for the use of medical cannabis in the workplace.

Out-of-State Patients

Patients registered for medical cannabis in another state are not allowed access to medical cannabis in Pennsylvania.

Growers and Processors

DOH will issue 25 combined grower and processor permits. They are required to use seed-to-sale tracking, thorough record keeping and retention, surveillance systems, and additional security measures.


The board may issue permits to no more than 50 dispensaries, which can each have three locations, allowing for up to 150 total dispensaries.

Legal Protections

A registered patient or caregiver is protected from arrest, prosecution, and discrimination in child custody cases. Employers do not have to accommodate employees’ on-site use. Legal protections do not take effect until the patient has been issued a medical cannabis registration card. The legislation does not include a timeline for issuance of registration cards.

Taxes and Fees

Dispensary applicants will pay $5,000 per dispensary application and $10,000 for grower/processor applications. Medical cannabis business licensees will pay registration fees of $30,000 for each dispensary location and $200,000 for grower/processors. The grower/processor will pay a 5% tax on the sale of medical cannabis to a dispensary. Patients are initially charged $50 for an identification card, which can be waived for financial hardship. All fees may be modified by the advisory board.

Sunset Provision

Portions of the law related to dispensaries will expire three years after the Federal Government completes rescheduling of marijuana.

Safe Harbor Letter for Minors with a Serious Medical Condition – Temporary Regulations

DOH published temporary regulations for the issuance of safe harbor letters (SHL). The regulations became effective June 25, 2016 and will expire on May 17, 2018 or upon DOH’s full implementation of the program, whichever comes first.

What follows is a summary of the Temporary Regulations:

Safe Harbor Letter

A letter provided by DOH that allows the applicant to administer medical marijuana to a minor patient in Pennsylvania.


A resident patient under 18 years of age with a qualifying condition listed in SB 3.


Parents, legal guardians, and caregivers who wish to administer medical marijuana to a minor patient with a qualifying condition may apply to the DOH to receive a SHL. An applicant may apply to DOH regardless of whether the medical marijuana was obtained from outside Pennsylvania.

Medical Marijuana

Pills, oils, topical forms, gel creams, ointments, and non-whole plant forms for administration through vaporization and nebulization. Manufactured edibles are not allowed but other products can be mixed into food or drinks to facilitate ingestion by a patient in a facility or residence. Vaporization is allowed, and smoking is prohibited.


If a minor does not have a parent or legal guardian, DOH can approve another individual, who must be at least 21 years of age, to serve as caregiver. If the minor patient is married to an individual under 21, that person may serve as a caregiver.


The following information and materials must be included in the application:

  • General background information about the minor and applicant such as name, address, date of birth, and relationship.
  • Documentation of legal relationship if not a parent, such as legal guardianship papers or a marriage license.
  • An approved photo identification card that provides proof of residency.
  • Applicant’s criminal history record obtained from the Pennsylvania State Police or its authorized agent.
  • A written statement from a licensed physician in Pennsylvania listing the serious medical condition of the minor, the physician’s name, address of practice, telephone number, and state license number.
  • Verification that the applicant will obtain the medical marijuana lawfully in another state.

Applicants will also have to certify that they understand and agree:

  • Marijuana is a prohibited Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
  • Growing, distributing, or possessing marijuana in any capacity, except through a federally approved research program, is a violation of federal law.
  • Improper use or acquisition of medical marijuana may be a violation of state or federal law.
  • Participation in the medical marijuana program does not authorize a person to violate federal or state law and does not provide immunity from or affirmative defense to arrest or prosecution under federal or state law except as provided under Act 16 or these temporary regulations.
  • An activity not sanctioned by Act 16 or this temporary regulation is a violation of state law.
  • An applicant, physician or minor must indemnify, hold harmless and defend Pennsylvania for all civil or criminal penalties, including those related to obtaining marijuana from outside Pennsylvania.

Limited Liability

Pennsylvania is not liable to states and other entities who provide marijuana to patients, physicians who provide statements for applicants, caregivers, or family members or guests if they experience damage, injury, accident, loss, compensation or claim, based on, arising out of, or resulting from the growing, processing, dispensing, transportation, or sale of medical marijuana to the applicant or minor.

SHL Expiration

The SHL will be valid from the date of issuance until May 17, 2018 or the publication of permanent regulations, whichever comes first, or

  • The minor turns 18, no longer has the condition, or moves to another state;
  • The minor changes physicians, upon which they must immediately notify the department and submit a new letter from the new physician;
  • The applicant can no longer fulfill their responsibilities; or
  • The minor or applicant die.

Ineligible Applicants

DOH may deny, revoke, or suspend a SHL if DOH has evidence of the following:

  • A conviction of a criminal offense that occurred within the five years relating to the sale or possession of drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances.
  • A history of drug abuse.
  • A history of diversion of a controlled substance or illegal drugs.
  • Falsified information on the application.
  • A conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, such that DOH would not be able to find the applicant of good moral character.
  • An intentional, knowing, or reckless violation of a provision of the act or this chapter.

An applicant whose letter is denied, suspended, or revoked may be prohibited from participating in the medical marijuana program for five years.


SB 3 (2016) - created medical marijuana program


Safe Harbor Letter for Minors with a Serious Medical Condition – Temporary Regulations