Last Spring, Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill to legalize the growth, distribution and consumption of cannabis for medicinal purposes in Pennsylvania. Advocates and members of the House and Senate fought tirelessly for this reality for years. The bill addresses seventeen medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, and HIV with the option to add caregivers individuals that are permitted to obtain medical marijuana on the patient’s behalf. The U.S. Department of Justice still has the authority to enforce civil and criminal federal laws relating to marijuana possession and use, regardless of state law. However, it may be unlikely that federal authorities would bring civil enforcement actions or criminal investigations and prosecutions against growers/ processors, dispensaries, physicians, seriously ill individuals or caregivers as long as they are acting pursuant to the Act. According to Wolf, the system is still being implemented and statewide access to the medical cannabis industry should be possible in early 2018. Under legislation, the Department of Health can issue up to 150 dispensaries throughout the state, which are said to be split up geographically based on the expected needs of patients. Companies looking to open dispensaries can now apply for permits. The applications must include an initial non-refundable fee of $5,000, a permit fee of $30,000, which is refundable if the permit is not granted; and proof of $150,000 in capital. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania hasn’t approved the medical use of the full plant. Only products of the plant such as oils and pills are considered medically appropriate. Growers and processors are also beginning to set up their plans for next year.
The beginning stage on a process like this can be tough since there were so many factors leading up to this great change in the law. The objective was to convince the Pennsylvania government to legalize medical cannabis for the welfare of the people in need. However, the other half of the battle is making sure the system put in place is done right. In Pittsburgh, the upcoming presence of dispensaries are only permitted for locations in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside so far, neighborhoods known to be some of Pittsburgh’s most affluent. AGRiMED has submitted plans to open a primary dispensary in the South Pittsburgh along Saw Mill Run Blvd. to better serve the broader community of Pittsburgh, not just the most affluent. Our proposed satellite locations will serve Greene and Indiana counties.
While the Southwest region of Pennsylvania isn’t as populated as the Southeast, the low number of dispensaries must be spread out in a way that doesn’t give an unfair convenience solely for patients with higher income. Philadelphia was granted three dispensaries to open soon and while the projected locations leave out many large low-income areas, this isn’t a problem with the city’s efficient travel methods. While applicants for PA dispensaries are still coming in, the end result of the Department of Health’s newly established system for medical cannabis has yet to come. This was a great achievement to approve what seemed like a farfetched idea for politics in the state and it will be crucial that all residents have the opportunity to benefit.