Pennsylvania lawmakers approved legislation last week that makes temporary changes to the state’s medical marijuana program enacted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic permanent under state law. The measure, House Bill 1024, also adopts recommendations from the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board for new regulations that govern the program. A proposed amendment to allow home cultivation of medicinal cannabis by patients and caregivers, however, was not included in the final version of the legislation.
Under House Bill 1024, medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue offering curbside pickup of patient orders, a practice that was put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Other temporary measures including increases in the daily purchase and personal possession limits from a 30-day supply to enough medicine for 90 days and the authority to certify medical marijuana patients via telemedicine appointments are also made permanent by the legislation.
Republican state Rep. Paul Schemel, the sponsor of the legislation, told local media that his bill puts medical marijuana “more in line with pharmaceuticals in a pharmacy. I’m supportive of that.”
The bill also opens up eligibility for employment in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry to those with prior criminal convictions. Restrictions against those with misdemeanor convictions holding jobs in the industry are eliminated and those with felony convictions would be eligible for employment 10 years after the offense was committed.
Another provision of House Bill 1024 allows medical marijuana manufacturers to put cannabis products that fail safety tests through remediation processes that make them safe for consumption.
Home Cultivation Proposal Scrapped by Pennsylvania State Senate
As the legislation was being considered in the Pennsylvania Senate, Democratic state Sen. Sharif Street offered an amendment that would have allowed medical marijuana patients or their caregivers to cultivate cannabis plants at home. The proposal was supported by medical cannabis advocates, who cited the high cost of regulated products and the lack of access for patients who live in rural areas.
“This would create additional affordability for so many Pennsylvanians,” said Street.
The amendment included several restrictions on home growing, including a limit of five plants and requirements that cultivation operations be contained in a locked space secure from access from unauthorized individuals. Those found in violation of the regulations for providing cannabis to unauthorized persons or exceeding the plant limit would be subject to the loss of home cultivation privileges.
Approval of home cultivation would have given medical marijuana patients more options for securing their medicine of choice. Supplies of cannabis products in Pennsylvania have been tight since dispensaries opened in February 2018. Jon Cohn, the CEO of cannabis grower and processor Agri-Kind Inc. said that supplies are only now beginning to keep up with demand, which spiked during the pandemic.
“For the first time in a long time—it might be forever in the PA cannabis market—supply might be finally catching up with demand,” said Cohn. “How long product is actually sitting on the shelf, they’re definitely staying longer, and you’re seeing a little less product with each order, and there’s definitely more selection in the dispensaries now, so it’s definitely beneficial to the patients.”
The home cultivation amendment unfortunately failed to gain the approval of the Senate’s Republican majority, who tabled the proposal. This was a huge disappointment to patients in the state. House Bill 1024 was then approved by the Senate on Friday evening by a vote of 47 to 3. Less than an hour later, the measure was passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a vote of 165 to 36. The bill now heads to the office of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is expected to sign the legislation into law.