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Pennsylvania wades through medical marijuana permit applications

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 3:30 p.m.
Marijuana has been infused into a variety of legal and illegal products nationwide in recent years.
REUTERS
Marijuana has been infused into a variety of legal and illegal products nationwide in recent years.

Pennsylvania's green rush into the medical marijuana world is well under way as the state continues to wade through hundreds of applications for about three dozen grower and dispensary permits.

State Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said Wednesday in a media briefing that the health department received about 500 boxes, envelopes and other packages containing applications. Many packages contain more than one application.

So far, health department staff have logged 258 applications, 132 for grower/processing permits and 126 for dispensary permits. Murphy estimated they are only halfway through the applications.

Still, she said she expects the state to be ready to issue permits by the end of June.

The state plans to issue 12 grower/processor permits and 27 dispensary permits as part of the first phase of the program's rollout. The application period closed March 20.

“We have worked diligently to protect the integrity of this process,” Murphy said. “This has been a tremendous undertaking by a team working day and night to ensure that we have a safe and effective way to get medication to patients.”

In the state's designated 11-county Southwest medical marijuana region, which includes Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, there were 22 grower-processor applicants and 14 dispensary applicants announced as of Wednesday. That list will grow as the state logs additional applications.

The Southwest applicants are vying for two grower/processor and five dispensary permits.

Gabe Perlow of Pittsburgh is among the applicants. He created PurePenn LLC with the hope of bringing a medical marijuana cultivation and processing plant to a 5-acre plot at the RIDC Industrial Center of McKeesport.

“The Department of Health is doing an incredible job of implementing the program and maintaining the timeline that they set from the get-go,” Perlow told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday. “We, as applicants, truly appreciate their transparency throughout this process. It is clear that patient well-being is at the forefront of all decisions being made.”

Perlow formed a partnership with Moxie, a Nevada company that processes and distributes pharmaceutical-grade cannabis-oil products, in an attempt to procure a license.

John Collins, director of Pennsylvania's Medical Marijuana Program, acknowledged there was some angst among groups who had not yet received confirmation of their applications. In one instance, a package was torn open and destroyed in the mail, he said. That outfit is allowed to reapply this week.

He said, after permits are issued, the successful applicants have up to six months to be deemed operational. Site visits from state officers will attempt to keep the process on track.

Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 17 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders. In the interim, the state has approved 231 applications through the “safe harbor” program, allowing caretakers of those younger than 18 to obtain medicine from other states.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016.

Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will be available in pills, oils, tinctures or ointments. The health department is regulating the program, which forbids smoking marijuana in dry leaf form.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @bencschmitt.

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