Following 14 excruciating months of infighting and delays, Pennsylvania legislators are expected to legalize medical marijuana at their next session’s March 14, 2016 kickoff.
Specifically, Pennsylvania’s State House will vote on “Senate Bill 3” which the Senate overwhelmingly approved in a different form on Jan. 26, 2015.
In the interim, Senate Bill 3 was substantially modified increasing the covered medical conditions, limiting the allowable cannabis forms and imposing a “THC cap,” reducing the number of permitted growers, processors and dispensaries, and vesting legalized marijuana’s oversight and regulation with Pennsylvania’s Department of Health and its’ newly created “Advisory Board.”
Medicine of marijuana and “serious medical conditions”
Marijuana contains 85 “cannabinoids,” chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers like Tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and Cannabidiol (“CBD”).
Cannabinoids imitate “endocannabinoids,” compounds our bodies naturally produce, which maintain internal stability and health, provide relief to symptoms including insomnia, pain, epilepsy, depression, nausea and inflammation, and have been synthesized for legal prescription in products like Marinol, Nabilone, and Rimonabant.
Containing five (5) more ailments than its predecessor, Senate Bill 3 currently lists following “serious medical conditions” treatable with medical marijuana:
- HIV Positive or AIDS;
- ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease);
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Multiple Sclerosis;
- Spinal cord injury;
- Inflammatory bowel disease;
- Huntington’s disease;
- Crohn’s disease;
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Intractable seizures;
- Glaucoma; and,
- Severe chronic or intractable pain that is neuropathic or impervious to conventional treatment.
Allowable cannabis forms and THC cap
Senate Bill 3 expressly prohibits smoking marijuana or incorporating it into an “edible,” and limits the forms in which it may be dispensed to pills, oils, topicals (e.x., gel, creams or ointments), “a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization,” tinctures (liquid extracts) or liquids.
Further, like neighboring New Jersey, Senate Bill 3 presently imposes a 10 percent limit on dispensed marijuana’s THC content. While intending to reduce possibility of being consumed for recreational purposes, the THC cap limits dispensed marijuana’s ability to relieve targeted symptoms.
Process for obtaining medical marijuana
To obtain and possess medical marijuana, Senate Bill 3 requires patients and their caregivers to apply for state-issued cards that have a year’s validity and permit obtaining up to a 30 day supply.
Those under 18 may apply through a caregiver and each medical marijuana card may be renewed annually.
Senate Bill 3 requires creating a state-run “marijuana program information electronic database” including “medical marijuana using patients'” information which is to be kept confidential.
Senate Bill 3 initially allows up to 25 licensed grower/processors and 50 licensed dispensaries allowed to operate up to three (3) locations, i.e., 150 total dispensaries.
Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others involved in caring for, and issuing prescriptions to, medical marijuana patients will have to undergo standardized training and certification.
Senate Bill 3 also establishes a fee schedule charging:
- Growers-processors a $10,000 application fee, $200,000 registration fee, and $10,000 annual renewal fee; and,
- Dispensaries a $5,000 application fee, $30,000 registration fee and $5,000 annual renewal fee.
Growers-processors must also pay a 5 percent state tax, the proceeds from which will subsidize research, abuse programs and financially challenged card holders.
Unlike Colorado or Washington which administer legalized marijuana programs through respective “Marijuana Enforcement Division” and “Liquor Control Board,” Senate Bill 3 appoints Pennsylvania’s Department of Health to oversee its program and creates a special advisory board.
Senate Bill 3 requires promulgating permanent medical marijuana regulations within 18 months addressing:
- Advertising and marketing;
- Indoor, enclosed facility‘s growing methods;
- “Certification review and approval procedures” for patients and practitioners, identification cards applications, medical marijuana organization applications, laboratory testing reporting results, medical marijuana testing laboratories and filing dispensary-generated receipts;
- Dispensary’s maximum per-dose price;
- Grower/processor’s “transporting, delivering, growing, processing and selling” methods;
- Dispensary’s dispensing methods including saleable types of medical devices and instruments;
- Methods for maintaining effective security and control to prevent theft and abuse including specifying tracking system requirements; contents, timing and frequency of filing reports with Department;
- Proper electronic information;
- Labeling information requirements;
- Criteria for designating under-18-patient’s caregiver;
- Safety insert’s contents;
- Inspection schedule for “grow/process/dispense” facilities and required “books, papers and tracking systems;”
- Research study regulations regarding patient selection and program implementation;
- Regulations ensuring that “valid registration holding” growers, processors, and dispensaries provide/procure medical marijuana from/to each other; and,
- Minimum number and types of medical marijuana to be produced and dispensed.