Medical Marijuana
On April 14, 2016, the House of Representatives voted to send Senate Bill 3 to the governor’s desk for his expected signature.  The bill has been signed into law as Act 16 of 2016.  Pennsylvania is now the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.
While many believe the federal government should be doing its due-diligence and conduct the medical tests for medical marijuana, they are not, and that has left the issue in the hands of the various states. In response, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed this law to allow physicians to prescribe it for a variety of conditions since it has been found to help with certain diseases and disorders.   Federally, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act and, technically, the federal government does not permit the legal use of medical marijuana at this time.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who is eligible for medical marijuana?
Certified patients with serious medical conditions who are under a doctor’s care may obtain medical marijuana from a state dispensary with their medical marijuana identification card.

What are the serious medical conditions?
The list of allowed medical conditions is as follows: cancer, epilepsy, intractable seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective (i.e. severe neurological pain or severe pain that resists traditional pain management), damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indicated of intractable spasticity (i.e. this includes neurological damage which does not fit into typical chronic pain definitions, like chiari malformation), inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), neuropathies, sickle cell anemia and Huntington’s disease.

What is the process to receive medical marijuana?
Patients will receive a certification from a registered doctor who is able to prescribe medical marijuana that the patient is under their continuing care for a serious medical condition.  Patients will then apply with the Department of Health (DOH) for a medical marijuana identification card and then with the identification card they may go to a state dispensary to receive their medication.

How long will it take until patients can receive medical marijuana under the new law?
It will take between 18-24 months to implement the new law.  Several things need to occur:  DOH needs to establish regulations and grant the first permits to producers; it will take one growing season for the producers to make the medicine and refine their medicine; doctors need to be registered; patients need to be certified; and the dispensaries need to be opened within this timeline.

Do patients have to wait this long?
There is a safe harbor provision in the law that says during the first two years, parents can bring marijuana into Pennsylvania that was legally acquired in other states for the treatment of their children.  It is important to remember that it is still deemed illegal by the federal government who could prosecute interstate shipments.

Can children be prescribed medical marijuana?
Yes.  A caregiver (parent, guardian or a person with approval from DOH) will be required to obtain an identification card in order to obtain medical marijuana for a child.  Likewise, older patients can designate up to two caregivers when they apply for their identification card. All caregivers are required to have a medical marijuana identification card and may not be named as a caregiver for more than five patients.

Where can patients purchase medical marijuana?
Patients and caregivers with identification cards will be able to go to state dispensary locations (it will not be available at local pharmacies) to pick up their medicine.  There may be up to 150 dispensaries across the Commonwealth.

How much will it cost?
Because it is not covered by insurance (it is not considered an FDA-approved drug) the market will set the price.  There are provisions in the law that would place a price cap if the price has grown “unreasonable or excessive.”  There are also provisions in the law to provide assistance to those who demonstrate financial hardship.

Will patients be able to smoke medical marijuana?
NO.  Smoking medical marijuana is prohibited.  Patients will be able to get their medicine in the form of pills, topical creams and oils, and they can vaporize.  Commercial entities are also prohibited from selling edible forms; however, patients and caregivers are not prohibited from incorporating it into their own food.

Is there a sales tax on medical marijuana?

There is no sales tax.  The application fees from growers and dispensaries, the renewal fees and the 5 percent excise tax paid by growers will fund the new medical marijuana system in Pennsylvania.  After costs are paid for, remaining funds from the excise tax will be available for DOH operations related to medical cannabis, drug abuse and prevention programs, medical cannabis research, and local police departments.

Will all doctors be able to prescribe medical marijuana to anyone they want?

NO.  All doctors wishing to prescribe medical marijuana must undergo a DOH-designed training course to understand which conditions and under what circumstances this medicine is appropriate.  There are stiff penalties for doctors who over-prescribe or prescribe to ineligible patients.