Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed medical cannabis legislation into law on April 17, and the program has continued to be developed at a steady pace by the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH).
On October 25, DOH Secretary Karen Murphy provided updates on the implementation of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program at a press conference in the Governor’s office, as well as during an informational hearing held by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. She reported that the program is still on target for achieving it’s objective of being up and running within 18 to 24 months after legislation.
Strategy for Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Implementation
Specific goals for this program include introducing all of the regulations by the end of 2016, releasing grower/processor and dispensary licenses for the first quarter of 2017 applications, and creating a physician registry as well as issuing cards for medical patients by October or November 2017.
DOH’s strategy for implementing the medical cannabis program has been to roll out various components of regulations, as opposed to all at once. Thus far, they have lived up to their own timeline.
Temporary regulations for growers and processors of medical cannabis were introduced on the DOH’s website, and all interested parties were encouraged to comment. DOH shared an updated version of the temporary grower and processor regulations that included various comments with a legislative workgroup who gave it bi-partisan support, according to DOH.
This is a step that the DOH is not required to make. The hope is that by taking the extra step it will neutralize any concerns the legislature may have so there will not be any delay in the regulatory process.
DOH will publish the temporary regulations for public comment in the Pennsylvania Bulletin (which is a required part of Pennsylvania’s regulatory process) at the end of October. The public will then have 30 days to comment on the grower and processor regulations. The PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and DOH will then have 30 days to comment, and then the DOH will incorporate needed changes before the regulation is considered final.
On October 25, the department introduced temporary regulations on their website for dispensaries that will now undergo the same exact process as the grower and processor regulations.
The next set of temporary regulations to be introduced will be for physicians. The PA DOH is taking physician involvement and buy-in seriously, and created a physician working group to review the proposed temporary regulations for physicians before the DOH introduces them to the public. DOH said that the physician working group is made up of 17 physicians that include representatives from all major healthcare systems.
The DOH has also taken the extra step to hire a “Patient Advocate” to ensure that patient’s needs are being heard. They issued 103 “Safe Harbor” letters to parents/guardians of minors, allowing them to possess forms of cannabis that are provided for in the law while the regulatory process is underway.
The process has run smoothly so far. DOH said that the biggest challenge has been meeting these deadlines as time is of the essence and input is being carefully weighed.
The regulatory process in Pennsylvania is a time consuming one, but it appears that the Wolf Administration has attempted to proactively keep the process moving forward by using a legislative work group, a physician workgroup, and hiring a patient advocate. As of today, it appears that forward progress will continue. This issue will remain a priority for the Wolf Administration, and a program will likely be operational by the 18-24 month DOH deadline.