Pubdate: Sun, 22 May 2016
Source: Times Herald, The (Norristown, PA)
Copyright: 2016 The Times Herald
Author: Lucas Rodgers
Note: Editor's Note: First of a two-part series


Legalization Has Patients and Businesses Seeing Green

Pennsylvania joined the growing list of states to legalize medical 
marijuana when Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3, the Medical 
Marijuana Act, into law on April 17. To date, 23 other states and 
Washington D.C. have legalized either medical marijuana, recreational 
marijuana or both.

It's been about a month since the passage of the MMA, as the law is 
known, but it will be a while before marijuana growers and 
dispensaries are up and running.

According to a blog on Wolf's website, the implementation of 
Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program is expected to take between 
18 to 24 months, so approved patients should be able to begin 
treatment with medical marijuana by early 2018.

With the passage of MMA, it is legal for patients with "serious 
medical conditions" to use medical marijuana to treat their 
conditions. Parents or guardians of a minor with a serious medical 
condition are allowed to lawfully obtain medical marijuana from 
another state, territory or country to be administered to the minor.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, one of the co-sponsors of MMA, said 
the Department of Health is already working on regulations, and the 
state government will convene a conference of people from all over 
the country who have experience with medical marijuana regulations to 
come up with a manual of recommended best practices.

"We'll be working with people from all around the country and 
hand-in-hand with the Department of Health to come up with the best 
possible regulations," Leach said.

The Department of Health has six months from the time the law passed 
to begin with temporary regulations.

The department will authorize licenses for up to 25 medical marijuana 
growers/processors and up to 50 medical marijuana dispensaries. Each 
authorized dispensary will be able to sell medical marijuana at up to 
three separate locations, so 150 is the maximum number of 
dispensaries that could operate in the commonwealth.

Leach said legislators talked to different people with different 
theories to try to find the right number per capita for medical 
marijuana growers and dispensaries as well as the number necessary 
for geographic diversity, and the number they came up with is a good 
starting point, but it could be changed in the future.

It is not cheap to obtain a grower or dispensary license, and the 
application process is quite stringent.

In order to be authorized as a grower/processor, an applicant must 
have at least $2 million in capital, and $500,000 of that capital 
must be on deposit with a financial institution, such as a bank, 
trust company or credit union. The applicant must pay a 
non-refundable initial application fee of $10,000, and a fee of 
$200,000 must be paid to apply for a one-year permit as a 
grower/processor, but the fee will be returned if the permit is not granted.

The process for authorization as a dispensary requires an applicant 
to have at least $150,000 in capital on deposit with a financial 
institution. The applicant must pay a nonrefundable $5,000 
application fee; the permit fee for a dispensary is $30,000 per year 
for each location.

Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the Pennsylvania Medical 
Cannabis Society, said there are many restrictions on Pennsylvania's 
medical marijuana program, but it's important to ensure that the 
interests of patients consistently come first.

PAMCS is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the medical 
cannabis industry in the commonwealth. Nightingale is a criminal 
defense attorney, former prosecutor and former executive director of 
the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"The critical question is 'how do we ensure that patients have access 
to high-quality medicinal cannabis products at prices they can 
actually afford?'" Nightingale said. "We need to be very, very 
careful that we do not end up with a program where it's so heavily 
regulated that the costs get passed down to the patient."

The Department of Health and the Department of Revenue will monitor 
the price of medical marijuana sold by growers/processors and 
dispensaries, including a per-dose price, and these departments have 
the power to implement a six-month cap on prices if the prices are 
determined to be unreasonable or excessive.

Leach said he and other legislators are not looking at Pennsylvania's 
regulation of alcohol as a model to regulate medical marijuana, but 
they're looking at how other states have handled marijuana.

"Some states have done it well, some not as well; we'll look at that 
and take it from there," Leach said. Alcohol is recreational, but 
marijuana is medical, so there are a lot of differences, he said.

Marijuana growers and dispensaries must be licensed by the state, but 
they will be privately owned, unlike the chain of Fine Wine & Good 
Spirits stores, which are owned by the state and operated by the 
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Dealing with banks could cause some complications for businesses 
seeking to grow or sell medical marijuana because banks are federally 
insured, but marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Marijuana 
is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, which means it is considered to have a high potential 
for abuse and no accepted medical use.

"Clearly the federal government is still trying to wrangle over how 
to deal with the emerging marijuana economy," Nightingale said.

MMA requires that medical marijuana growers/processors and 
dispensaries must meet the local municipal zoning and land use 
requirements, and the facilities may not be located within 1,000 feet 
of a school or daycare center, unless the facility is located within 
a Keystone Opportunity Zone.

Patients will not be required to pay a sales tax on medical 
marijuana, but growers/processors will be taxed at a rate of 5 
percent when selling medical marijuana to dispensaries.

The qualifying conditions that are permitted to be treated with 
medical marijuana are: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; autism; cancer; 
Crohn's disease; epilepsy; glaucoma; HIV/AIDS, Huntington's disease; 
inflammatory bowel syndrome; intractable seizures; multiple 
sclerosis; neuropathies; Parkinson's disease; post-traumatic stress 
disorder; sickle cell anemia; damage to the nervous tissue of the 
spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable 
spasticity; severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin 
or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional 
therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or 
ineffective; and a terminally ill prognosis in which life expectancy 
is approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course.

Leach said very dedicated people made the case for each of these 
conditions to be covered under the medical marijuana program, and 
legislators looked at scientific evidence in support of that to come 
up with a comprehensive list that will allow anyone who needs 
treatment to have access.

There are several forms of medical marijuana that patients are 
permitted to use for treatment, but smoking the plant is not one of 
them; it remains illegal under state and federal law to smoke marijuana.

Medical marijuana may be dispensed to patients in the following 
forms: pill; oil; topical forms including gel, creams or ointments; 
tincture; liquid; or a form medically appropriate for administration 
by vaporization or nebulization, excluding dry leaf or plant form. 
The law states that medical marijuana in dry leaf or plant form could 
become acceptable if proper regulations are adopted in the future.

"We're optimistic that we'll have the foundation for a robust medical 
marijuana industry," Nightingale said.

A Medical Marijuana Advisory Board within the Department of Health 
will oversee the regulation of medical marijuana in the state. 
Members of this board will include officials in the Department of 
Health, law enforcement officials, and members to be appointed by the 
governor and legislative caucuses; one member will be either a 
medical marijuana patient, a relative or household member of a 
patient or a patient advocate.

In order to purchase medical marijuana, a patient must receive a 
signed certification from a physician registered with the Department 
of Health stating that the patient has a serious medical condition, 
and then the patient must apply for a medical marijuana 
identification card from the Department of Health. Doctors must 
undergo training before they are certified to recommend treatment 
with medical marijuana to patients.

When applying for an ID card, a patient can designate up to two 
caregivers who can administer medical marijuana treatment, but the 
caregivers must also apply for ID cards. Patients and caregivers with 
valid ID cards will be able to purchase medical marijuana from 
dispensaries that are authorized by the Department of Health. Under 
state law, insurance companies are not required to provide coverage 
of medical marijuana, so patients will likely have to pay for it themselves.

MMA also established the Medical Marijuana Program Fund, which is a 
special fund in the state Treasury for fees and taxes collected from 
medical marijuana. Of the proceeds from the fund, 40 percent will go 
to the Department of Health for operations and outreach efforts; 30 
percent will be used to pay for research into the serious medical 
conditions which qualify for treatment by medical marijuana; 15 
percent will be used to help patients and caregivers who demonstrate 
financial hardship with the cost of background checks, ID card 
applications and purchasing medical marijuana; 10 percent will go to 
the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs for drug abuse 
prevention, counseling and treatment services; and 5 percent will go 
to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to be 
distributed to local police departments that demonstrate a need 
related to enforcement of MMA.

The US Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research and Development will be 
hosting two one-day seminars in the greater Philadelphia area from 
9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 4 at the Philadelphia Marriott 
Downtown, 1201 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 and on Sunday, 
June 5 at the Philadelphia Marriott West, 111 Crawford Avenue, West 
Conshohocken, PA 19428. The price of admission is $300 before May 27 
at 12 a.m. and $350 after May 27. The one-day seminars will offer 
concise and comprehensive information on all the areas of medical 
marijuana business: licensure, legal, accounting/taxes, staffing, 
plant production, profitability, liability, etc.

Next time: Neurologists and health officials weigh in on the benefits 
and effects, as well as marijuana's impact on the opioid crisis.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom