Update: Pa. Legalizes Medical Marijuana

Update: Pa. Legalizes Medical Marijuana

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April 14, 2016

By Noelle Skodzinski
 
Update 4/17/16: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed SB 3 into law, making Pennsylvania the 24th state, plus the District of Columbia, to legalize medical marijuana. The Governor signed the bill at a public ceremony in Harrisburg, joined by advocates, members of his administration, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. 
"I am proud to sign this bill that will provide long overdue medical relief to patients and families who could benefit from this treatment," said Gov. Wolf. "I applaud members of both parties in the House and Senate who have come together to help patients who have run out of medical options and want to thank the thousands of advocates who have fought tirelessly for this cause. Since taking office, I have met with patients and families, held roundtables, and urged action on this legislation and it is encouraging that the hard work of these families has resulted in truly historic legislation.

“The signing of this bill, which will improve the quality of life for patients and their families throughout Pennsylvania, shows that Harrisburg can come together to address big challenges on behalf of the people of the commonwealth," the Governor added. 

"Finally, Pennsylvania patients who could benefit from medical marijuana will no longer have to suffer needlessly or be treated like criminals," Latrisha Bentch, a founding member of the Campaign for Compassion, a local organization of patients and families advocating for comprehensive medical marijuana legislation, commented in a prepared statement. Bentch's daughter suffers from mesial temporal sclerosis, a condition marked by frequent seizures that could be treated with medical marijuana, according to the statement.
"We applaud the Department of Health, which is already taking steps to prepare for the implementation process," said Becky Dansky, a legislative analyst ofr the Marijuana Policy Project, in the statement.  

 
Pennsylvania has just one more step to go — Governor Tom Wolf’s signature — before it becomes the 24th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to have legalized marijuana for certain medical uses. The House voted Wednesday 149-46 to concur on Senate Bill 3, an amended version of a House bill that passed March 16 in the House. The Senate passed the amended bill, the Medical Marijuana Act, April 12 by a vote of 42-7.  
 
Governor Wolf released the following statement on the passage of SB3: “Today [Wednesday] the House passed SB3, sending the medical marijuana legalization bill to my desk. I am proud and excited to sign this bill that will provide long overdue medical relief to patients and families who could benefit from this treatment. I applaud members of both parties in the House and Senate who have come together to help patients who have run out of medical options and want to thank the thousands of advocates who have fought tirelessly for this cause. I have met with patients and families, held roundtables, and urged action on this legislation since taking office, and it is encouraging that the hard work of these families has resulted in historic legislation.”
 
The Governor's spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, told the TribLive that the Governor will sign the bill Sunday during a public ceremony. 
 
“Legal access to medical marijuana is going to benefit tens of thousands of seriously ill patients in Pennsylvania,” said Becky Dansky, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a prepared statement. “For some, it’s the best treatment option. For others, it’s the only treatment option,” she said. 
 
The Medical Marijuana Act, once signed into law by the Governor, would be implemented and administered by the state’s Department of Health (DOH). 
 
It would establish a regulated framework of licensed medical marijuana “grower/processors” and dispensaries. No more than 25 grower/processor permits and 50 dispensary permits would be initially issued. The act also specifies that each dispensary may provide medical marijuana at no more than three separate locations. 
 
Additional regulations state that:
  • the department may not issue more than five individual dispensary permits to one person
  • the department may not issue more than one individual grower/processor permit to one person
  • no more than five grower/processors may be issued permits as dispensaries.
  • a dispensary would not be permitted to operate on the same site as cultivation facility.  
 
Marijuana would only be permitted to be grown in “indoor, enclosed, secure facility which includes electronic locking systems, electronic surveillance and other features required by the department [DOH]."
 
A 5-percent tax will be paid by grower/processors for sales made to dispensaries. Dispensaries and patients will not be charged a sales tax. 
 
The medication would be available only in the following forms: pill; oil; topical forms, including gel, creams or ointments; a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization (excluding dry leaf or plant form until dry leaf or plant forms become acceptable under regulations adopted); tincture; or liquid.  
 
APPLICATION AND PERMIT FEES
Grower/processors would face an initial, non-refundable application fee of $10,000; a $200,000 permit fee (if application is approved), valid for one year; and an annual permit renewal fee of $10,000. 
 
Grower/processor applicants would be required to have at least $2 million in capital, $500,000 of which must be on deposit with a financial institution.
 
The initial, non-refundable application fee for a dispensary would be $5,000; the permit fee would be $30,000 per location (valid for one year); and an annual fee of $5,000 would be required for permit renewals. 
 
Dispensary applicants would be required to have at least $150,000 in capital, which must be on deposit with a financial institution.  
 
SEED-TO-SALE TRACKING
The Act requires that grower/processors and dispensaries implement an electronic inventory tracking system, “which shall be directly accessible to the department through its electronic database that electronically tracks all medical marijuana on a daily basis.”  
 
Under SB 3, a grower/processor would be able to obtain seed from outside the state upon the start of their cultivation operations, as well as obtain seed and plant material from another in-state grower/processor.
 
TESTING
Grower/processors will be required to contract with an independent, DOH-approved lab to test their product at harvest and again at final processing.
 
DISPENARY DETAILS
A seemingly unique aspect of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is that dispensaries will be required to have a physician or a pharmacist on site during operating hours, or if a dispensary has more than one location, a physician assistant or a certified registered nurse practitioner may be on site at each other location. On-site physicians cannot, however, authorize patients to receive medical marijuana or otherwise treat patients.
 
A point of contention voiced by at least one Senator is that the Act stipulates that a dispensary may not be located “within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public, private or parochial school or a day-care center.” An article in The Sentinel reported that Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, the bill’s cosponsor, said that that requirement in Philadelphia “would make it difficult to open [a dispensary] in Center City.”
 
That requirement remained in the amended version that the Legislature has passed. 
 
QUALIFYING CONDITIONS AND PATIENT INFORMATION
Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act is among the more liberal bills, as it would allow access to medical marijuana for patients suffering from any of 17 qualifying “serious medical conditions”:
  • cancer; 
  • positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • parkinson's disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • epilepsy
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • neuropathies
  • huntington's disease
  • crohn's disease
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • intractable seizures
  • glaucoma
  • sickle cell anemia
  • severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
  • autism. 
 
“Terminally ill” patients, with “a medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course,” also would qualify. 
 
Patients would need to obtain a certification from registered practitioners.
 
The act would require that the DOH maintain a confidential directory of patients and caregivers, as well as an electronic database of information relating to “medical marijuana organizations, certifications and identification cards issued, practitioner registration and electronic tracking of all medical marijuana as required under this act.”
Physicians, pharmacists, certified registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants would be required to attend a (to be developed) four-hour training course on “the latest scientific research on medical marijuana, including the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.”
 
Principals and employees of a medical marijuana organization, who deal directly with patients or handle the marijuana, also would have to attend a two-hour course on “methods to recognize and report unauthorized activity, including diversion of medical marijuana for unlawful purposes and falsification of identification cards; proper handling of medical marijuana and recordkeeping; any other subject required by the department.” 
 
The Act also would establish a program to authorize the use of medical marijuana for medical research into the use of the drug to treat serious medical conditions, including the provision of research grants.
 
PUBLIC INFORMATION
Under the “right-to-know law,” the names and business addresses for all applicants, as well as medical credentials of medical practitioners registered for the program, will be made public. 
 
Data on the amount of medical marijuana sold by grower/processors and dispensaries also will be made public on the DOH’s website.
 
The bill also states that it is the goal of the General Assembly to promote “diversity and the participation by diverse groups in the activities authorized under this act,” and includes guidelines for doing so. 
 
The Governor has 10 days to sign the bill into law.