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The State of Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania
2020 Grade: C+
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis system shows some improvements since our last report. In 2019, the Commonwealth’s Department of Health approved anxiety and Tourette’s syndrome to the list of qualifying conditions, and modified previously existing language to extend the program to patients with chronic pain. In 2020, under the state’s COVID response plan, PA permitted medical cannabis businesses to operate during COVID, allowed patients to take advantage of new preordering, curbside pickup and home delivery, and telemedicine visits for physician evaluations. While these are important system improvements, the state still has considerable work to do before its medical program is functional and effective.
ASA recommend that the state focus their 2021 legislative efforts on expanding patient access, ensuring sufficient medical cannabis products are available, and working to reduce product costs.49 One strategy Pennsylvania should consider is to allow home cultivation of medical cannabis for able-bodied patients, which can dramatically reduce costs and ensure ongoing availability of medicine.
The state should also consider expanding the volume of licensed cultivators, manufacturers, testing laboratories and medical retail facilities to safeguard against supply shortages and improve patient access, as well as authorize delivery. Other program modifications to consider include organizing patient legal protections related to housing, as well as improve training requirements for facility staff. Finally ASA recommends permanently maintaining the new access and telehealth enhancements under COVID, which greatly improve patient access and reduce patient cost burdens.
The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (Act 16), enacted in 2016, created the state’s medical cannabis program, which for the first time authorized the legal possession, use and sale of medical cannabis in the Keystone State. Regulations governing the program’s operation were developed in 2016 and 2017, with the Commonwealth’s Department of Health announcing the award of the first 12 medical cannabis cultivators and 27 medical cannabis dispensaries authorized to serve patients at the end of 2017. Under the law eligible patients must be in-state residents, meet state qualifying condition standards from a list of 17 conditions and be registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Patient eligibility is determined by a patient consultation with a licensed physician who is registered with the Commonwealth to recommend medical cannabis to patients. The law did not authorize patients to cultivate medical cannabis at home or permit patients to smoke cannabis as a treatment delivery method.
Medical cannabis sales began in Pennsylvania in February of 2018, the same year the Department of Health issued new regulations authorizing patient access to medical cannabis flower and expanding the list of eligible qualifying conditions to include cancer remission therapy, opioid-addiction therapy, neurodengernative disorders and spastic movement disorders. The Department of Health also announced in 2018 that it will not share patient registry information with law enforcement agencies, a move designed to maintain legal firearm ownership rights for medical cannabis patients. Other states do not provide this layer of protection, leaving those patients who own firearms vulnerable to second amendment rights infringements due to the conflict of federal and state cannabis laws. Late in 2018, Pennsylvania certified eight medical schools as official research centers and approved several more dispensary facilities. The state also streamlined the process to add new qualifying conditions.
Surveyed patients are pleased that there are now more product choices available. While many surveyed patients appreciate that the list of qualifying conditions has been expanded, some believe that the qualifying conditions list should be expanded even further, as it still leaves many patients out of qualifying for medicine. In addition, though the number of dispensaries have increased, surveyed patients would like to see more dispensaries opened to improve access. Surveyed patients also report that prices are still very high and unaffordable for many and that there are often shortages for dry flower. They would like to see telemedicine, online ordering, delivery, and curbside pick up maintained in the future.