Big Changes Enforced on Medical Cannabis Program in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has had some major changes to the medical cannabis program, including a ban on products that were previously allowed.
Pennsylvania
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The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis program this month, banning hundreds of products it says have fallen short of federal regulations. 

Local television station WHTM reported that the department is “is banning the use of products that contain additives not approved by the” Food and Drug Administration. The ban affects “vaporized medical marijuana products,” according to WHTM, which said that the state’s Department of Health released a “list of more than 600 products the department wants people to stop using.”

In addition, the department has “also asked growers and processors to stop selling the items listed.”

“The Department of Health is committed to ensuring that the Medical Marijuana Program is operating appropriately and effectively,” read an email sent to medical cannabis patients and caregivers in Pennsylvania, as quoted by WHTM. “As you know the Department recently conducted a statewide review of all vaporized medical marijuana products containing added ingredients. After finishing this review, the Department has determined that certain vaporized medical marijuana products containing some added ingredients have not been approved for inhalation by the United States Food and Drug Administration.”

The recall of the products has left many in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry questioning the decision. 

Meredith Buettner, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, a trade group of medical cannabis permit holders in the state, said that the organization “strongly disagrees with the ill-advised action by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Office of Medical Marijuana to ban all additives in vaporized medical marijuana products.”

“This action affects the second largest category of products on the market. The Department has previously approved these products which hundreds of thousands of patients have been safely and effectively using to treat their serious medical conditions since 2018. During that time, the Department has not once publicly reported any adverse events related to these products,” Buettner said, as quoted by WHTM. “The Department of Health has unnecessarily caused panic amongst patients. The decision issued via email is a gross misinterpretation of statute and is not based on any scientific standard.”

Buettner said the directive from the Department of Health “will not only deprive patients of their medicine but will create an artificial supply issue in the regulated market,” but will also “cause irreparable damage to Pennsylvania’s thriving medical marijuana market while putting patients’ health and safety at risk by driving them back into the illicit market.”

“We encourage the Department to stay its order and to meet with medical and industry experts to develop product standards that provide safe, effective medicine to the Commonwealth’s half a million medical marijuana patients,” Buettner said.

Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis treatment in 2016, and in the years since, lawmakers have continued to revise and expand the law. 

Last fall, a pair of state senators announced plans to introduce bipartisan legislation that would enable medical cannabis patients to cultivate a limited number of plants at home.

The senators, Sharif Street, a Democrat, and Dan Laughlin, a Republican, said that the bill “would go a long way towards helping everyday Pennsylvanians meet their health needs and ensuring everyone is treated equitably and fairly under [the state’s medical marijuana law].”

“However, there are still inefficiencies around MMJ that are well known, especially as it relates to cost and access,” Street and Laughlin wrote in a memo in November. “This year’s quarterly Pennsylvania MMJ Advisory board meeting revealed significant disparities in accessibility. The PA Department of Health indicated that patients in some counties must travel more than two hours in order to reach a dispensary. This is simply not feasible for many Pennsylvanians. In addition, patients have also been vocal on the fiscal challenges around the rising costs of medicine and affordability.”

The two introduced their bill last month. 

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