Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program

Photo Credit: Rappler

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program, which was signed into law on April 17, 2016, will be fully implemented in the first quarter of 2018 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The program will provide patients access to medical marijuana for 17 serious medical conditions including cancer, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, HIV and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

People who want to receive medical marijuana begin by creating a patient profile in the Department of Health’s Patient and Caregivers Registry. Next, they need to obtain a physician’s certification that they suffer from one of the approved serious medical conditions. Then, they need to return to the Patient and Caregivers Registry and pay $50 for a medical marijuana ID card to obtain medical marijuana from an approved dispensary in Pennsylvania.

Patients will not receive parts of the cannabis plant to smoke or make into eatables but rather pharmaceutical grade Dronabinol, made with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, which is dispensed as oil in gelatin capsules. Dronabinol is used to treat various symptoms such as nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy or loss of appetite and weight loss in patients with HIV infections.

The Medical Marijuana Program will also provide guidance on medical marijuana to growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories.

“The next step for [business] permit holders will be to ramp up their operations, so they can prepare to grow medical marijuana,” said John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana.

“Our teams will perform a series of site inspections before the locations can be certified as operational, and once that happens, the permittees will be able to begin growing and processing medical marijuana.”

The Pennsylvania Cannabis Association, which was founded by Rick DiMarco, has long been an advocate for a marijuana industry in Pennsylvania. The association has recently moved from providing general education about marijuana to advising entrepreneurs who are interested in getting into the business.

“I’m working with patients in Philadelphia with these card signups, but I’m also affiliated with Cannamed, a company that does workforce development for the cannabis industry,” said Claudia Post, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Association. She is also CEO of Post Advisors, a marketing company in Philadelphia, and owns another company named Smokin’ Hot Solutions, which provides sales and marketing counsel to cannabis entrepreneurs.

“The cannabis industry is like the Wild West, everything is new, and opportunities abound,” said Post.

“I’m a business builder, and I’m committed to this, because I have seen firsthand the beneficial results of medical marijuana.”

Post champions the broad opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved in the medical marijuana industry.

“For example, if you’re dealing with a grower, there’s the cultivation, all the equipment, soil supply, the testing of the soil and so on,” said Post.

“If you translate what a farmer would do, and all the support industries involved in farming, it’s the same supply chain, just a different crop.”

“There are also many companies solely focused on processing the crop, and that leads to more jobs.”

New Jersey is expected to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use by June, which means people in southeastern Pennsylvania could cross the border to buy cannabis products.

“My contention is that Pennsylvania should put cannabis behind the counter for adult use, and tax it, and put that money into the state for infrastructure — schools, roads, reservoirs — all the things we need here.

“Last year, the Colorado cannabis industry made $1 billion in sales in just eight months, which equated to over $162 million in taxes and fees for Colorado.”

Two of the chief obstacles to Post and other entrepreneurs who favor the full legalization of cannabis is the common belief that it’s a gateway drug and the negative image exemplified in the film “Reefer Madness,” the classic American propaganda film that portrayed high school students being lured by pushers to try marijuana and then going “mad” and committing crimes.

“It is not a gateway drug, in fact, it’s being used to help veterans get off opioids,” said Post.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about money and power. It’s Big Pharma and Big Tobacco lobbyists trying to stop the legalization of marijuana because they don’t want the competition unless the government allows them to also get into the business.

“If they can’t have a piece of it, they don’t want anybody else making money off it.”