30 Days of Legal Weed in PA

It has been just over 30 days since Pennsylvania medical marijuana dispensaries have opened their doors, and business is booming! In fact, patients have been so eager to get their hands on their medicine that dispensaries have run out of product. NowThis reported last week on Pennsylvania’s cannabis shortage in a video on Twitter, below:

Pittsburgh’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors for the first time in February 2018, only a quarter mile from my home in the Greenfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. As a California native who left the state one day after recreational marijuana was legalized, I was curious to see how Pennsylvania’s weed laws compared.

Despite years of public support for the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Pennsylvania, it took until 2016 for the house-majority Republicans to pass a bill that crossed party lines and made legalization possible. On April 17th, 2016, Pennsylvania joined 23 other states when their Medical Marijuana Program was signed into law. That number is now up to 29 states as of February 2018. The state of Pennsylvania is slowly figuring out what this means for individuals, health care providers, and dispensaries.  The Marijuana Policy Project stated in a blog post that Pennsylvania has approved 10 dispensaries and 10 growers to cultivate and sell medicinal cannabis products, but an infographic posted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health (below) showed that 29 “permittees” had been granted grower/dispensary permits in the state. A recent google search showed that only 5 are up and running as of March 17th, 2018.

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Image found here.

Though the legalization of marijuana in any form is encouraging for consumers, Pennsylvania’s legal weed laws are far from exciting for recreational users hoping to get their fix legally. For now, legal marijuana is only available to patients who are diagnosed with one of the following approved chronic health conditions:

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Intractable seizures
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Neuropathies
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 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
  • Sickle Cell Anemia

Beyond being medically eligible, patients must also complete a multi-step registration process which includes signing up for the program , getting a letter from an approved physician certifying that you have a qualifying condition, and applying for a medical marijuana I.D. card, which costs approximately $50.

Another deterrent to recreational users is that Pennsylvania lawmakers only approved medicinal cannabis in the forms of oils, pills, topical gels, creams, or ointments, tinctures, and liquids, and disallows any dry leaf or plant forms to be administered to patients. This removes the common form of use for most users (dry leaves and plants) from the equation altogether. This “no smoke” movement has sparked some recent debates about changing the newly passed law to allow the more popular (and often cheaper) forms of marijuana to be sold at dispensaries. The jury is still out on whether or not that will happen, but it is making the news, so that is encouraging to new and potential patients.

Though 29 states have passed legislation legalizing marijuana in some form, purchasing and consuming marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the Federal government.Technically, medical marijuana recipients in Pennsylvania could be prosecuted by the Federal government for breaking the law. That being said, the PA.Gov website dedicated to information on the state’s Medical Marijuana Program states that federal prosecution is unlikely. A memorandum from the Department of Justice from August 2013 states that the Federal government is not prioritizing medical marijuana programs for prosecution. Growers, dispensary owners, physicians, and patients can breathe a sigh of relief, but it is imperative that they stay abreast of changing laws.

The decriminalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania has been a hot topic this year as midterm elections are heating up. Some Pennsylvania politicians are turning to social media to voice their support of the legalization of medical marijuana and their plans to back decriminalization efforts in the state. Pennsylvania Auditor General  Eugene DePasquale took to Twitter in January 2018 to pat Erie City on the back for taking steps towards decriminalizing marijuana.

The future of marijuana laws in Pennsylvania are unclear. Many in the state feel that the legalization of medical marijuana is a huge step in the right direction. Stay tuned for updates on the topic in future blog posts. But first, let’s see where you stand! Take my 3 question quiz  to tell us your thoughts on marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania.

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This post was written and published for Chatham University’s Master of Professional Writing Program, PWR 662 (Writing for Digital Media).