They said it would never happen. They said the General Assembly was too
conservative. They said Pennsylvania, a state where until recently the
sale of booze on Sundays was frowned upon, would never permit and regulate
medical marijuana. Well, one year after Governor Wolf signed Pennsylvania's
Medical Marijuana Act (“Act”) into law, it has become abundantly
clear - they were wrong.
On May 17, 2017 Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act turns one year
old. And while there was justifiable concern at the time of passage that
the program would take years to get off the ground, Pennsylvania’s
Department of Health (“DOH”) has done a commendable job ensuring
that Pennsylvania’s citizens will soon have access to medical marijuana.
This article will revisit the progress made over the last twelve months,
showcasing the efforts made to bring one of the fastest growing industries
to our area.
On June 25, 2016, only one month after the law became effective, the DOH
released temporary regulations concerning the safe-harbor provision of
the Act. Instead of making the most vulnerable and youngest of patients
wait for medical care, the DOH implemented a system where parents and
guardians could obtain recommendations from their children’s doctors
for the use medical marijuana. If recommended, then the parents could
obtain from the DOH a letter stating that their possession of medical
marijuana was not a violation of state criminal laws. Albeit limited in
scope, the program has already approved over 200 applications for safe-harbor letters.
Then, beginning in the fall of 2016 the DOH began releasing temporary regulations
concerning the supply side of the medical marijuana industry. First, general
regulations concerning permit applications were released alongside specific
regulations for the growing and processing of medical marijuana. Shortly
thereafter, regulations concerning dispensaries and testing facilities
were released. While many feared that the DOH would take years to release
such detailed regulations, in less than six months of passage, entrepreneurs
were already being shown the road map for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Instantly, plans of operation, diversity statements and community impact
proposals started to be drafted. Regulations concerning everything from
fertilizers to transportation manifests were now being studied by prospective
applicants. One thing was clear, however, the speed and thoughtfulness
with which the regulations were released evidenced a willingness from
the DOH to get this industry started as quickly and reasonably as possible.
As the kids would say, “things got real” on December 21, 2016
when DOH Secretary Murphy held a press conference advising that permit
applications to grow/process and dispense medical marijuana would be made
available in January 2017 and due on March 20, 2017. Moreover, at the
December press conference, the DOH articulated the number of permits to
be released in phase 1 and the manner in which the permit will be spread
across the Commonwealth. During this initial phase of applications, only
12 permits to grow/process medical marijuana and only 27 permits to dispense
medical marijuana would be released.
Although specific numbers are not yet available, DOH estimated that by
March 20, 2017 approximately 900 applicants submitted the required fees
and forms to enter the medical marijuana industry. DOH is currently in
the process of cataloging and reviewing these applications, which the
winners expected to be announced this summer.
DOH has also made sure that the demand side of the medical marijuana industry
is up and running. A physician’s work group was created to ensure
that the medical profession continues to play an integral role in the
regulation drafting. Moreover, in April 2017 the Department released draft
temporary regulations for physicians wishing to recommend medical marijuana
to their patients.
While Pennsylvania has made incredible strides over the last year, perhaps
more exciting is the promise of more to come. With the passage of the
Act, a Medical Marijuana Advisory Board was created. Tasked with various
obligations, this Board will serve an integral role in shaping the future
of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. At about the same our first dispensaries
open their doors (Spring 2018) the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board will
be issuing a report to the DOH with various recommendations including,
but not limited to, the possible expansion of this industry. Issues such
as the sale of dry leaf/flower and additions to the list of qualified
medical conditions will all be addressed by the advisory board. Given
the trend seen in other states, it is not unreasonable to start planning
for an expansion of this market.
For now though, Pennsylvania residents can bask with a sense of pride.
Refusing to get bogged down in red tape, our DOH has plowed ahead. Medical
marijuana is here to stay, and Pennsylvania is making sure it doesn’t
get left behind.
If you have any questions concerning Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana
Act, either as an industry participant, health care provider or patient,
then contact William G. Roark, Esq.
(email@example.com) and the Medical Marijuana Practice Group at Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell
& Lupin, P.C.
www.HRMML.com and Andrew Sacks, Esq. (Asacks@sackslaw.com)Head of the Medical Marijuana Department for Sacks Weston Diamond, LLC.
www.sackswestondiamond.com. William and Andrew are the inaugural co-chairs of the Pennsylvania Bar
Association Committee of Medical Marijuana and Hemp.