Medical Cannabis Update

One of my proudest accomplishments in the Pennsylvania Senate was passage of Act 16 of 2016, which will bring medical cannabis to Pennsylvania.

My goal in this endeavor has been – and continues to be – giving patients and their families one more arrow in their quivers to battle diseases and serious medical conditions.

Much has been accomplished in the 16 months since my legislation was signed into law:  safe harbor letters were issued to parents and caregivers for children under 18 to begin to immediately receive medical cannabis, 12 of the 25 permits for grower-processors have been awarded, 27 of the 50 dispensary permits have been chosen, the required electronic tracking system has been developed, and regulations have been issued to bring physicians and other medical professionals into the program.

Much remains to be accomplished, including regulations for the to-be-established research through Pennsylvania’s medical schools, a key component of the law that I believe will make our Commonwealth a leader in medical cannabis studies.

While I have sometimes doubted the ability of the Pennsylvania Department of Health to meet the deadlines they’ve established for implementation of the medical cannabis program, they have met each and every one and appear to be on track for getting medicine to patients in 2018.  I appreciate all the work the staff has done to move forward and I thank the Governor for making this a top priority from the very beginning.

When Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program is up and running, patients with one of 17 medical conditions listed in the law will be able to receive certifications from medical marijuana practitioners who determine that patient would benefit from the use of medical cannabis.  Patients receiving these certifications will apply to the Department of Health for an identification card and after paying a $50 processing fee they (or their caregiver) will be able to take their certification and ID to a permitted dispensary to receive medical cannabis.

To become a medical marijuana practitioner, physicians will need to take a four-hour training course and be listed on a registry with the Department of Health.  The Department is currently working to provide for these courses.

The list of 17 medical conditions may be expanded by the to-be-created Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, which will include members knowledgeable and experienced in issues relating to the care and treatment of people with serious medical conditions, geriatric or pediatric medicine, or clinical research.  One member will be a patient or a family member of a patient or a patient advocate.

In addition to making recommendations to change, add, or reduce the types of medical conditions in the law, the Advisory Board will also make recommendations on the form of medicine permitted by the law, the number of grower-processor and dispensary permits, the use of whole plant, and the forms of administration of the medicine.

Passing the medical cannabis law was a bipartisan effort and its implementation has been equally bipartisan.  An in-depth review of the process used to award the initial permits and the rollout of the program will be continuing areas I will be following closely in the weeks and months ahead.

In the interim, I want to thank everyone again for the hard work and effort to ensure Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program will benefit patients and their families and make our Commonwealth a leader in both implementation and research.