As a longtime Pennsylvanian, I have gotten used to the slow drudge of progress and the archaic mindset of our policymakers in this state. With that said, we did manage to pass a Medical Marijuana Law two years ago this month, though the law became a skeleton of its robust beginnings. Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act was enacted earlier this year, as the first facilities began growing, processing, and dispensing cannabis-derived products (oils, tinctures, topical, vapes, and pills). The program has seen many pitfalls in its infancy, including supply shortages, a lack of qualified doctors, and many other shortcomings yet to be addressed. But public response has been phenomenal, with nearly 30 thousand patients have registered in the program’s first few months.
Recently the Department of Health (parent to our state’s Medical Marijuana Office), announced the second round of applications for permits for growers/processors and dispensaries. Our state also made a bold move and announced that it would be one of the first states to offer permits for clinical research of medical marijuana. As a crescendo to all of that, yesterday the PA-DOH MMJ Advisory Board convened two years after the program’s inception (as was written into the law) to make recommendations to the Department of Health, its committees, and the Governor. The formation of this committee was included in the law, to act as an independent voice to meet and make recommendations periodically, composed of doctors, law enforcement, government officials, and patients advocates.
The Board’s recommendations included adding indications (to the 17 already in place), adjusting rules, and adding flower (to be vaped) as a form of medication. The addition of flower was our biggest ask of this committee. Yesterday’s proceedings were only a first step and are merely “recommendations”. The Secretary of Health has up to one year to act upon yesterday’s recommendations, and that will include the political bureaucracy of committees making recommendations as well as studying and implementing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate any of these changes in the law. This is FAR from being law, but Secretary of Health, Doctor Rachel Levine, has been a proponent of the program thus far, and we are hopeful for swift action in Harrisburg.
What will this mean for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana patients? The added indications will create a more inclusive program. The inclusion of flower to the program will provide added relief to many patients, including those with PTSD. Optimistically, this NORML Executive Director sees this as an even greater victory as it puts into place all of the instruments necessary to handle the eventual statewide LEGAL sale of recreational marijuana. Like any new idea, PA’s program has its’ faults but is growing faster than anticipated. I believe that these ongoing Advisory Board reviews are our best hope for a more perfect program for everybody. As an advocacy group, Lehigh Valley NORML will continue to push our politicians for more reform, until we get it right. In the end, we fight for the people – and the people want this reform. The patients need these reforms. And we DEMAND them!