In April of 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania’s MMJ program into law, making it the 24th to join the club of compassionate program states. Medical marijuana, however, was not made available through state-run dispensaries until early 2018. 

Currently, PA has shown itself to run fairly smoothly with a flexible, capable administration. The PA Department of Health (DOH) is the body in charge of the MMJ program. Some believe that Pennsylvania is poised to become the next state to legalize recreational cannabis. This can be in no doubt in response to the phat stacks PA is making off its medical cannabis enterprise. 

While it’s great to see that a cannabis program is doing well for its state economically, it’s important that they’re up to snuff when it comes to MMJ patients. So let’s find out: What’s good about the PA MMJ program, and what areas might need some improvement.  

First, some fast facts about PA’s medical cannabis program.

The PA MMJ Program — Just the Facts

Qualifying Conditions

Pennsylvania’s list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis is not bad. But more importantly, they seem to be open to approved doctors suggesting conditions that are not listed. In their rules, the term they use is “serious medical conditions”, and they are as follows:

  • ALS
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Dyskinetic/spastic movement disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Intractable seizures
  • Intractable spasticity
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Opioid dependency
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Neuropathies
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain
  • Terminal illness (defined as 12 months or fewer to live)
  • Tourette syndrome

Possession Limits for MMJ Patients

According to the program rules, the limit is a “30-day supply”, and it is not defined beyond that. Doctors are not required to prescribe a certain amount, therefore, it seems that the vague amount of this 30-day supply is left up to the patient. Interesting, Pennsylvania. 

Home Cultivation?

No.

Caregivers?

Yes. A patient can designate up to two; a caregiver can serve up to five.

State-licensed Dispensaries

PA operates through state-licensed dispensaries that are part of a seed-to-sale program. 

Are Minors Eligible?

Yes. Anyone under 18 with a serious medical condition on the program list must be registered by a caregiver. See our PA caregiver article for more information.

Certifying Physicians 

Patients must be certified by a doctor. The certification must state that the patient has a qualifying medical condition and that the physician believes he or she could benefit from medical cannabis. Physicians must register, complete a four-hour course, and report to the DOH if a patient no longer needs access to medical cannabis as a result of improved health or death.

What’s Good in the PA’s MMJ Program?

There’s a lot of good to say about the medical marijuana in PA. Let’s start with the latest and greatest …

Telehealth for Physician Certifications

In response to COVID-19, Gov. Wolf issued an emergency disaster proclamation on March 25, 2020, saying that visits for physician certifications (for the time being) no longer had to be in-person. Therefore, patients can get their certifications through telehealth — virtual appointments done online through their phone or computer. 

This means that doctors that specialize in cannabis, like our compassionate docs at Elevate Holistics, are now available to you from the safety and convenience of your own home. Like online clinics should be, Elevate is a secure and user-friendly platform that is HIPAA-compliant. 

In addition to this essential move to keep medical cannabis safe and accessible to patients, the DOH announced additional changes that prove that they are committed to keeping cannabis medicine available to the patients that need it. These include:

  • Allowing dispensary employees to deliver to cardholders in their cars on dispensary property.
  • Removing limits to how many patients a caregiver can serve.
  • Eliminating background checks for caregiver renewals, decreasing a 4-6 waiting period. 
  • Allowing a 90-day supply if physician approved.

Right on, Pennsylvania. That’s what we call looking out for MMJ patients. 

Medical Cannabis Is Booming in PA

According to a July 2020 report in Marijuana Business Daily, Pennsylvania is expected to double their medical cannabis sales in 2020 to somewhere between $400 and $500 million, with sales projected to reach $1 billion in the next 3 to 4 years. 

This economic success is owed to PA — the fifth most populated state in the country — having a market that is not just robust but well-run, which brings us to the next good thing …

PA — Poised for Recreational Cannabis?

Experts believe that because of its robust market and smooth operation, PA is a good candidate for adult-use legalization. However, everyone has not been on board; despite support, the Republican-controlled Senate has resisted previously. But … the state’s budget shortfall due to coronavirus may help change some skeptical hearts and minds. 

Gov. Tom Wolf began to show a change of heart in early 2019 and has gradually upped his support for legalizing adult-use marijuana since last fall. And polling in early 2020 revealed that 62% of possible voters were for it. 

PA is an attractive cannabis market with growing support for adult-use. This is great, as long as patients’ needs are always a priority … Some recent studies in PA suggest that they are, which leads us to our next good thing in the PA MMJ program.

Medical Marijuana Research in Pennsylvania

In 2018, Pennsylvania gave the middle finger to the federal government’s bureaucratic sideshow due to cannabis’s Schedule I status, and gave institutions throughout the state, like the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the green light to go ahead and get on with researching how the plant can treat medical conditions. 

That same year, Forbes published an article suggesting that PA will be the state leading the nation in MMJ research.

Recently, the state announced partnerships with Drexel, Jefferson, and Penn State for medical marijuana research. Universities are also partnering with cannabis businesses and the DOH to conduct research. Their goals are oriented toward understanding what dosages and forms are best for specific conditions. Other studies are looking to measure the quality of life for medical cannabis patients. 

PA MMJ Program Is a Smooth Operation

For the most part, the MMJ program in Pennsylvania looks to be firing on all cylinders. It appears to have gotten up and running according to plan, and has a high amount of patients and doctors participating. 

As well, it has proven itself flexible, by responding with changes to rules for the pandemic, and also showed good faith by making modificatins prior to the coronavirus outbreak. For example, in 2018, the Secretary of Health approved a petition to add cancer remission therapy to the list of qualifying conditions. Furthermore, in that same spring of 2018, they approved a petition to add dry flower for vaporization to the type of cannabis allowed. Initially, allowed PA MMJ forms included only pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquids, and non-whole plant forms for vaping. 

Where the Program Needs Improvement

So what’s there to be down on? Well, in short, a few things that can easily be remedied by time and the continued flexibility of the DOH are:

  • No homegrow
  • Shortages in flower
  • Smoking herb remains illegal

In late 2019, patients and advocates with the support of a local NORML chapter, called on legislators to make some changes. Accessibility and cost seemed to be a big issue. A state-wide shortage of flower has made it difficult for patients to get the cannabis medicine that works for them, which causes them to turn back to the black market, where product is not regulated.

Additionally, patients have asked for a cap to be set on prices. Advocates suggest that if the state would remove marijuana from its list of banned substances, it would ease the anxieties of MMJ patients, and possibly encourage insurance companies to begin offering assistance with costs. 

Patients also showed up with signs demanding the right to homegrow their medical cannabis. This would also help to alleviate shortages and allow patients to grow a condition-specific strain that may not be available at their local dispensaries.

And finally … It seems silly to tell patients that they can’t smoke their medical cannabis. While there are pros and cons to vaping and smoking, how to inhale medical herb should be according to the patient’s preference. Sometimes smoking is the easiest, most hassle-free way. Is someone really going to tell a terminally ill patient they can’t toke on an MMJ joint? Is anyone really going to know if they do it in the privacy of their home? Seems like a bit of a saving face and shaming policy, and from what we’ve seen so far, PA seems better than that.

MMJ Patients Beware

So, as in any state, medical cannabis in PA is not a free pass in all circumstances. Patients should know what their MMJ status does not lawfully allow, including: 

  • Growing marijuana
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana
  • Selling or giving away your MMJ
  • Using cannabis in a public place
  • Smoking your MMJ
  • Using in workplace while performing dangerous activities
  • Purchasing food or drink infused with marijuana

Elevate Holistics — Your Online Clinic in PA

If you’re ready to book an appointment, our compassionate and DOH-approved cannabis doctors are ready to help you with your certification! Easy, safe, and secure certifications — that’s the Elevate way!