Pubdate: Sun, 17 Jul 2016
Source: Times Herald, The (Norristown, PA)
Copyright: 2016 The Times Herald
Author: Rick Kauffman


UPPER MERION - Passage of legislation that legalized medical 
marijuana in Pennsylvania marked the end of seven long, hard years of 
negotiation. Now that Gov. Tom Wolf has signed the measure into law, 
the push is on to explain the ramifications, including possible 
business opportunities tied to the medical marijuana field.

Wolf, who had adamantly backed the bill through approval by both the 
House and Senate, swiftly added his signature, which made the bill law.

That kicked off the long process of working within the boundaries 
that the commonwealth agreed upon to bring cannabis to medical 
patients. Doctors will need to be certified; growers and processors 
will need to establish a business model; and licenses for 150 
dispensaries will be issued in the next year.

Friday, July 8, at St. Joseph's University, the prime sponsor of 
Senate Bill 3, Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, of Haverford and Upper 
Merion, held a regulatory conference bringing cannabis entrepreneurs, 
medical professionals, patients, advocates and data analysts from all 
over the country to help shape the regulations on the front-end of 
discussions in bringing medical marijuana to the people of Pennsylvania.

"There's public comment at the end of regulatory periods, but it's 
not the same as coming up with recommendations before the regulations 
are drafted and to interact with other people who might have a 
different opinions," Leach said.

John Kagia, the director of Industry Analytics of New Frontier, a 
data-collection firm that monitors medical marijuana sales, arrived 
from Washington, D.C., to express the importance of an open and 
transparent system.

"We want to share our perspective on the role that a robust, 
transparent process plays in the success of the program, and the role 
that being able to collect and publicly disseminate data on the 
programs, how valuable that is in ensuring that all of the 
stakeholders in the industry are able to effectively structure their 
respective roles," Kagia said.

Many of the specifics of regulating medical marijuana will be 
refined, down to the details of what fungicides or pesticides were 
used in the process, to which kind of child-safe containers the 
medication should come in.

Kagia added that the process doesn't simply apply to the 
manufacturing and dispensing side of the medical marijuana business, 
but especially to the "regulators and the legislators who need the 
data in order to tell if a program is doing what it's set up to do."

While the law may be in effect, medical care organizations can 
continue to use their own discretion in recommending or prescribing 
medical marijuana to patients.

"Most of the large health care organizations in Pennsylvania have 
come out and said they will not let their doctors come out and 
prescribe medical marijuana," said Adrienne Leasa, an administrator 
for the Pennsylvania Cannabis Patients and Caregivers Union, a group 
that teaches patients how to make hash oil concentrates and how to 
obtain it if they reside in legal states. "That's a huge roadblock."

Leasa, a Downingtown, Chester County, resident, was one of many 
patients in attendance who said it was important to be involved in 
the regulatory process.

After contracting cryptococcal meningitis due to an immune system 
severely compromised by AIDS, Leasa said it took only nine months to 
get to an undetectable viral load.

"Basically without treatment I would have died in six weeks," Leasa 
said. "It takes most full-blown AIDS patients six to 10 years, and I 
used cannabis oil along with my anti-retrovirals, that's the only difference."

On the business side, many professionals are finding a new frontier 
in Pennsylvania as the medical marijuana industry grows. Justin 
Carey, vice president of strategy for Pa. Wellness, a 
Philadelphia-based consulting firm in the medical cannabis industry, 
said that while the July 8 event was "definitely a business focus," 
the big push moving forward would be with educating medical 
professionals in best practices.

"There has been a particular focus on education for practitioners and 
doctors to understand the benefits of the CBD and THC medicines for 
particular ailments and chronic conditions and I think that will 
trickle down," Carey said. "The patients will be educated by their 
doctors, but there's a lot of talk about how to educate the doctors 
to provide proper recommendations."

Part of the recommendations by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, 
which was established within the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 
is that dispensaries will staff a full-time physician to help 
prescribe the proper amounts and kinds of medical cannabis, whether 
it is a THC-derived medication to prevent nausea and vomiting caused 
by cancer medications, or the non-psychoactive CBD that helps stem 
seizures in children.

"It's very expensive to have a $150,000-a-year physician at every 
dispensary," said Lolly Bench, the administrator of Campaign 
Compassion, a group devoted to the advancement of medical marijuana 
advocacy and education, whose daughter benefits from cannabis-oil treatment.

"You can't throw a stone without finding somebody that already has 
their loved one or themselves on it, because very quickly I think we 
all realized that we would never be able to wait around for the 
Legislature to make this decision, nor should anyone wait around for 
it," Bench said.

Earlier in the month, Dr. Howard Strauss, a retired dentist who owns 
and serves as director of the AIDS Care Group in Sharon Hill, brought 
to the Trainer Borough Council a proposal of bringing a medical 
marijuana distribution center to the site of the former Rick's 
Restaurant and Tavern along Ninth Street. He was met with pushback 
from residents fearing increased crime and lowered property value.

"People are asking, 'Why here?'" Trainer police Chief Francis 
Proscopo said. "But, why does it have to be a bad thing? Business 
begets business."

Strauss declined to comment for this story.

According to Senate Bill 3, certain start-up costs will be required 
in order to legitimize the business. First, a $5,000 nonrefundable 
application fee must be submitted through the Pennsylvania Department 
of Health, which is currently developing a temporary regulations for 
marijuana businesses. A $30,000 registration fee must be submitted 
with the application, but it can be refunded if not granted. And the 
owner must have $150,000 of required capital by the department on deposit.

As for regulations, Leach said nothing was set in stone, and as 
information becomes more apparent, which is why professional data 
analysts are involved with the process, the regulations can be 
adapted down the line.

"As additional regulations or changes in regulations become relevant, 
assuming there's a regulatory body that's sympathetic with those 
changes, it's just a question of issuing new regulations," Leach said.

Kagia said that medical marijuana is given much more leeway in the 
regulation and development process due to its extreme unlikelihood of 
overdosing. Physical therapists like Cheryl West, who suggests 
medical marijuana as treatment, said many of the issues patients in 
Pennsylvania will face aren't from the medication itself, but will be 
from developing wheelchair accessible dispensaries and affordable 
medication for patients since it won't be covered on Medicare.

They both agreed that patient practices will shape the regulations in 
a more significant way than clinical trials would.

"Xanax is not the kind of medication that you throw up against a wall 
and see what sticks," Kagia said. "With cannabis, because it is 
almost biomedical, impossible to consume enough cannabis to kill you, 
you completely eliminate the risk of overdosing ... which is why 
physicians are comfortable saying, 'See if it works for you.'"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom