HARRISBURG, Pa.– It’s been six months since Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, and already some seriously ill children have access to the drug.
But qualifying adults won’t be able to get medical marijuana until the program is fully in place in early 2018.
By this fall, the state Health Department expects to publish temporary regulations for growers and processors, and by year’s end for dispensaries, physicians, patients, caregivers and laboratories.
The state already has approved more than 50 applications for caregivers to bring medical marijuana into the state for sick children.
A look at how the program is developing:
THE BACKDROP: A NEW LAW AND DEVELOPING PROGRAM
The law sets standards for tracking plants, certifying physicians and licensing growers, dispensaries and physicians. Patients will be able to take marijuana in pill, oil, vapor, ointment or liquid form but won’t be able to legally obtain marijuana to smoke or grow.
Twenty-five states have comprehensive programs, and an additional 17 have laws that permit limited access to marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Leslie Bocskor, a Nevada-based marijuana industry consultant, said Pennsylvania is on track to set the standard for comprehensive medical marijuana programs.
The Health Department must license growers and processors, license dispensaries, register physicians to prescribe the drug and issue patient identification cards.
The state is developing applications for each step of the process, and the department expects to publish temporary regulations for growers and processors in the Pennsylvania Bulletin this fall.
The department has requested public feedback on the program and plans to issue temporary regulations for dispensaries, physicians, patients and caregivers and laboratories by the end of the year.
The state already has issued temporary guidelines for caregivers to access medical marijuana for children and has approved more than 50 applications.
WHO QUALIFIES FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA?
Patients must have one of 17 serious medical conditions listed under the law to qualify for use as well as hold a medical marijuana identification card.
Applications are not yet available for adult patients to buy out of state, but approved caregivers can apply to buy marijuana and bring it into Pennsylvania for children. Some states, like Nevada, provide out-of-state authorizations.
The limited accelerated access is not overly common but shows a compassionate and sensible approach to creating an efficient system, Bocskor said.
WHERE WILL IT BE GROWN AND DISPENSED?
The law allows for up to 25 marijuana growers and processors as well as up to 50 dispensaries that can have three locations each. States have launched programs with different licensing volumes, and Pennsylvania will likely evaluate its number of licenses after the market is established.
The initial process will be competitive.
The state is trying to map out the demand for medical marijuana and the availability of public transportation to get patients to a dispensary.
LICENSING GROWERS, DISPENSARIES AND PHYSICIANS
Physicians must register with the program and take a four-hour course to qualify for licensing.
Growers and dispensaries must apply with the state, pay a permit fee, show a proof of capital, undergo a background check and complete a two-hour training course. The applications for each are expected to become available by the end of the year.
Often, outside companies partner with in-state stakeholders to apply for licenses and develop businesses, Bocskor said.