Although the journey to bring cannabis medicine to Pennsylvania has been long and nerve wrecking for the many patients fighting to legalize this effective treatment option, Governor Tom Wolf took the necessary step over the weekend to end the suffering, once and for all, by signing a comprehensive medical marijuana program into law – making Pennsylvania the twenty-fourth state in the nation to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
Calling it a “great day for Pennsylvanians,” Wolf told a crowd of patients and supporters gathered before the State Capital on Sunday, "When you have people who represent a cause as eloquently and in as heartfelt a way as the advocates for this have done, it shows that we can actually get something done that means something.”
Patients across Pennsylvania suffering from 17 qualified conditions, including cancer, Crohn's disease, and severe chronic or intractable pain will eventually have the freedom to walk into any of the state’s 50 licensed dispensaries and purchase full strength cannabis products. Unfortunately, it could take up to two years before the program is fully functional. However, for parents of children suffering from seizure disorders, there is provision written into the language of the law that allows them to possess and administer cannabis oil before the product is legally available for sale.
Not unlike the program that was launched at the beginning of 2016 by neighboring New York, patients with a recommendation from a doctor will not be allowed to smoke marijuana. The new law dictates that only various cannabis products will be made available, including pill, oil, tinctures, and liquid forms that can be used in vaporizers. In an effort to ensure that no one in the state of Pennsylvania is smoking weed and calling it medicine, the law also forbids patients from engaging in home cultivation.
Edible forms of marijuana, such as pot brownies and cannabis infused gummy bears, will not be sold in dispensaries, but the law allows patients to produce these items at home.
It is worth mentioning, however, that medical marijuana patients caught in possession of cannabis buds could still face criminal penalties. As it stands, possession of less than 30 grams of weed is a misdemeanor punishable with 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500. Patients busted for cultivating any number of plants at home could face felony charges – an offense that comes with a fine up to $15,000 and 1 to 5 years in prison.
On paper, Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana law looks much better than the one struggling to find some level of functionality in New York, but it will likely encounter some of the same problems. For starters, there may not be many physicians eager to start providing patients with medical marijuana recommendations. The new law, similar to the one in New York, forces doctors interested in participating in the medical marijuana program to go through a training course that has yet to be defined by the state. Until the certification course is put into place, which could take a year or longer, not a single physician will be allowed to even discuss marijuana as a treatment option. Meanwhile, there is also a chance that Pennsylvania doctors will want to avoid the subject of medical marijuana due to fears that their involvement will cause problems with their malpractice insurance and possibly even the DEA.
But even if Pennsylvania patients are able to secure recommendations from their doctors, the issue of affording an appropriate amount of this medicine could pose some challenges. The New York Times reported earlier this year that the average patient in New York is spending in upwards of $1,200 per month for medical marijuana treatment, while other reports suggest that patients are paying as much as $2,000 per month. This overly inflated price structure is happening because it is costing cannabis producers more money to bring pills and oils to market than it would for raw flowers. To make matters worse, cannabis is not covered under any health insurance network.
Reports indicate that the Pennsylvania Department of Health is already working to implement the new program, but not a single patient is expected to be serviced before the end of 2017.