By: Ryan Udell and Melissa Pang
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine approved a recommendation from the state medical marijuana advisory board to allow the sale of whole-plant cannabis (dry leaf and flower) for medical purposes in Pennsylvania at an April 16, 2018 Harrisburg news conference. Previously, Pennsylvania permitted only the sale of oils, extracts, pills, and tinctures. Dry leaf, which requires no processing and is easier and cheaper to produce, will be available in dispensaries later this summer, according to Dr. Levine. This new development should reduce the cost of treatment and increase access to patients who have been facing shortages since dispensaries opened in February. Pennsylvania law still forbids patients from smoking or consuming marijuana in edible form and prohibits dispensaries from selling pipes, bongs, and rolling papers, permitting the sale of dry leaf medical marijuana only for vaporization through vaporizers and other devices.
Dr. Levine also accepted the board’s recommendation to approve the use of medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction, terminal illness, neurodegenerative diseases, and dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders, expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions from 17 to 21. Pennsylvania will become the second state (following New Jersey’s lead) to permit medical marijuana to be used as a replacement therapy for opioids. The Pennsylvania Department of Health names the opioid crisis the worst public health crisis in the state, and earlier this year Governor Tom Wolf declared the opioid epidemic a statewide disaster emergency.
Another change will permit physicians who prescribe cannabis to opt out of the public registry (although they will still be required to register with the state), a decision Dr. Levine hopes will encourage more physicians to participate in the program. Some doctors have been reluctant to have their names published out of fear of federal prosecution. Although the Pennsylvania medical marijuana law has been in place since April 2016 and 29 states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government prohibits all forms of the drug. Critics say eliminating the public registry will prevent patient access to medical marijuana.
Proponents say these new developments will reduce the costs of medical marijuana both for suppliers and patients, expand treatment options for patients (especially those suffering from opioid withdrawal), raise physician participation, and increase patient access to medical marijuana.