Medical Cannabis in Pennsylvania: Update

The newly budded medical cannabis market in Pennsylvania looks to be one of the most promising medical markets in the nation; however, they have had several bumps along the way. Legislation in allowing the sale of cannabis products at registered retail dispensaries finally went into effect in early March, with six storefronts available to serve the 30,000 patients in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, in fewer than two weeks, the dispensaries had completely run out of product. Despite the state having approved 12 wholesale cultivators, only one was producing at the time. Patients were told more product would be available in several weeks.

The Pennsylvania government also is making corrections to the types of medicine available to patients. Under the original legislation, only the sale of pill, oil, topical, tincture or liquid forms were allowed. Infused edibles were explicitly forbidden. Excluding the sale of cannabis flower limited many patients to products that were more expensive and harder to dose than what they were expecting. Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Rachel Levine, announced in April that flower sales would be beginning sometime over the summer, after hearing extensive patient testimony about the conflicts with the legislation. Levine also announced that she would allow the use of medical cannabis for opioid use disorder, joining New Jersey as the only states to acknowledge the benefits of cannabis on opioid addiction.

The most interesting facet of Pennsylvania’s medical program is a provision that allows grow facilities to partner with Pennsylvania colleges and universities for medical cannabis research. This circumnavigates the strict rules surrounding the Schedule I status of cannabis. Federal prohibition makes the process of acquiring cannabis for clinical trials and research studies extremely difficult. Currently, eight schools are registered to receive cannabis in edible or vaporizeable form. However, commonwealth court judge Patricia McCullough issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that halts the research section of the legislation. Many of the state’s retailers and wholesalers have been upset with the provision, arguing that these new grantees will flood the market and drop wholesale prices. As the law is written, these research grow ops would be able to sell on the wholesale market just like the other cultivators, despite going through a less rigorous application and vetting process, with only a small commitment of their product to research. The upset business people argue that these research cultivators should be restricted to growing only for sale to the college they are partnered with, and not be allowed to sell on the regular market. Further scrutiny of the legislation will need to happen before this groundbreaking initiative can fully begin.