Process Begins For Medical Marijuana Access in Pennsylvania

Apr 17, 2016

Pennsylvania is now officially the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.  Following an arduous legislative battle, Governor Tom Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act Sunday, which will take effect in 30 days. 

Representative Dan Frankel of Allegheny County has been a longtime supporter of the measure.  He says an engaged governor and emotional advocacy from families of children struggling with chronic illnesses were both imperative in passing this legislation.

“I think it [advocacy] helped to change the minds of many of my colleagues who resisted moving forward with this,” says Frankel. “It moved both sides of the political aisle.”

Representative Ed Gainey of Allegheny County says extensive research tells legislators that the use of medical marijuana is safe and effective in alleviating pain and symptoms of chronic diseases, without the use of potentially addictive narcotics.  Gainey says in states with medical marijuana legislation, there is a 25 percent decrease in opioid overdoses.  Going forward, he notes the necessity of robust education programming regarding the benefits to using medical marijuana.

“When you start educating people on the benefits of medical marijuana, that itself brings people back to the table to say ‘listen, we’ve got to get this done before we leave for the people of Pennsylvania,’” says Gainey.

To obtain a prescription for medical marijuana under this legislation, one must fill out a form to be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  If it is approved, the applicant will receive an identification card with which one can receive a prescription to one of 150 dispensaries across the state.

Medical marijuana will not be distributed for smoking, but rather in the form of pills, gels, creams and oils. 

According to Gainey, there will be 15 conditions in which medical marijuana will be approved to treat including cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress, Huntington’s and autism. A full list can be found here.

“It’s another tool for dealing with some of these chronic illnesses for physicians to be able to utilize as alternatives to other pain medication,” Frankel says.

A 5 percent tax will be placed on the drug for regulation and research.  Regulation will be monitored by the Department of Health, which will include rigorous and extensive background checks for growers and distributors.

“It’s not going to be something somebody can come in and do in a very casual way, ” Frankel explains.

Although legislation will take 18-24 months to be operational, qualified Pennsylvanians can receive the drug from other states in which similar legislation is applicable. 

As for full legalization of marijuana, both Frankel and Gainey say they're sympathetic to the idea, but want to be cautious. Frankel points to the uncertainty of THC levels in items sold in states like Colorado, who has made recreational use legal.  Both agree that they'll look into the issue once additional studies are completed on the impact of full legalization.

For now, decriminalization is a priority for both representatives. They see the socioeconomic benefits of keeping individuals out of prisons for smaller-scale crimes such as small amounts of marijuana possession. 

For more information on Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana, please visit https://www.governor.pa.gov/topic/medical-marijuana/.

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