Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Program
Over the last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has implemented the legislative Act 16 of 2016, allowing for a medical cannabis program, without any major delays. Regulations have been drafted and published, and applications for those interested in growing, processing and distributing medical cannabis have been submitted to the department for review.
Seventeen qualifying conditions allow patients to receive medical cannabis therapy, including HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal or neurological indication of spasticity, inflammatory bowel, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, autism, sickle cell anemia, neuropathy and pain, defined in the statute as “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.”
Smoking or vaporizing of dried cannabis flowers, or buds, is not permitted as a legal means of consuming medical cannabis under the law, and dried flowers will not be sold at dispensaries. The forms allowed to consume medical cannabis in Pennsylvania as stated in Act 16 include oil, tincture, pill, topical gels, creams or ointments, and “a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization,” which means oil and extracts that could be used in a device such as a vape pen for consumption. There will be no cap on THC content, the principal psychoactive compound in cannabis, on any of the products.
The law does not allow edibles such as cannabis-infused candies, cookies, etc. to be sold in dispensaries, and prohibits home growing of medical cannabis plants. Licenses for growing, processing and distributing will be awarded as soon as summer 2017 and the program could be fully functional by the first quarter of 2018.
Those that wish to consider cannabis therapy as a non-toxic, non-addictive holistic health option for pain or any of the other 16 qualifying conditions must talk to a physician that has completed the required four-hour certification course and is registered to recommend cannabis therapy to a patient. Patients interested in medical cannabis therapy are strongly encouraged to talk with their doctors now and ask them if they plan to get certified to recommend medical cannabis.
If the doctor recommends a patient for cannabis therapy, the patient must register with the Pennsylvania Department of Health for a medical cannabis ID card and may then visit a licensed medical cannabis dispensary, where a pharmacist that is required to be on staff at all times will discuss which type of cannabis and method of consumption might be best for the patient's symptoms; for example, pain.
If a parent wants medical cannabis for their child that has one of the 17 qualifying conditions, they can register with the Department of Health for an ID as a caregiver. An adult patient can also designate another adult as a caregiver that will then register in a similar way as the parent or legal guardian. The department will make applications for caregivers available on its website.
Information for physicians interested in learning more about medical cannabis and getting certified can be obtained from the only physician-run medical cannabis organization for doctors, Compassionate Certification Centers (CompassionateCertificationCenters.com). Information for potential patients, caregivers and doctors will be continually updated on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website as the program develops (Health.PA.gov).
Tom Santanna is the president of Tom Santanna Strategic Consulting, a Harrisburg-based government relations practice that specializes in medical cannabis. Santanna is also a RYT-200 yogi. For more information, call 717-712-6873 or visit TomSantanna.com.