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Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program to add growers, dispensaries

| Thursday, March 22, 2018, 1:15 p.m.
AP Photo
Jim Mone/AP
AP Photo
A Pennsylvania Department of Health of the state's medical marijuana regions under phase 1 of the program. Phase 2 was announced Thursday, March 22, 2018.
Department of Health
A Pennsylvania Department of Health of the state's medical marijuana regions under phase 1 of the program. Phase 2 was announced Thursday, March 22, 2018.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy and John Collins, director of the state's director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, on Wednesday Dec. 21, 2016, in Harrisburg announced details about the number of medical marijuana dispensary permits Pennsylvania counties will receive.
Submitted
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy and John Collins, director of the state's director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, on Wednesday Dec. 21, 2016, in Harrisburg announced details about the number of medical marijuana dispensary permits Pennsylvania counties will receive.
Cresco Yeltrah medical marijuana products.
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Cresco Yeltrah medical marijuana products.

The state Department of Health announced Thursday it will add 13 new medical marijuana growers and 23 new dispensaries as the program swells to more than 25,000 resident registrants.

Both the dispensaries and growers can be up and running within a year after receiving state approval. All told, this will give Pennsylvania 50 marijuana dispensaries and 25 state-sanctioned growers of medical marijuana, said John Collins, director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana. Each dispensary can have three locations, meaning 150 could eventually be operating in the state.

“We have ample capacity in the system,” Collins said in a conference call with reporters.

Under the expansion, the state will issue two grower/processor permits in each of the state's six regions with the 13th going to the highest-scoring applicant. Dispensary permits will also be divided within the regions, with as many as four permits issued in southwestern Pennsylvania. The 11-county Southwest medical marijuana region includes Allegheny, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Butler and Beaver counties.

Permit applications will become available April 5 and submissions must be postmarked by May 17.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed the medical marijuana bill into law April 2016. Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is available in pills, oils, tinctures and ointments. The state Department of Health is regulating the program, which forbids smoking marijuana in dry leaf form.

Medical marijuana has legally been sold from dispensaries in the state since Feb. 15, although there have been growing pains. Several dispensaries, including Solevo Wellness in Squirrel Hill, have run out of inventory causing unforeseen closures.

Collins said two of 12 currently approved growers are now shipping product and more should be in April.

More than 25,000 patients have registered for the state program and more than 6,000 patients have purchased medical marijuana from dispensaries. State officials said 7,000 medical marijuana cards have been purchased. Most of the marijuana has been used for pain management, Collins said.

As of Thursday, 473 doctors were approved to issue certifications.

“The positive response from patients has shown that this is an important program to help treat Pennsylvanians with serious medical conditions,” said Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson.

Diana Briggs, 47, of Washington Township in Westmoreland County received a medical marijuana caregiver card to administer a cannabis oil and capsule medication that helps reduce the number of seizures her son, Ryan suffers daily. She said expansion and competition should lead to cheaper product for patients and caregivers.

“Bringing more dispensaries and grower/processors allows for more options for patients,” she said. “I'm hoping it will also bring the cost down for those patients struggling with the cost of their medical marijuana.”

In the programs first round, the state issued permits for 12 grower processors and 27 dispensaries. Applicants must pay a nonrefundable fee of $10,000, as well as a $200,000 refundable permit fee. Proof of $2 million in capital must also be shown which includes $500,000 on deposit with a financial institution.

Dispensary fees include a $5,000 application fee, which is nonrefundable, a $30,000 refundable permit fee and proof of $150,000 in capital. The deadline for both applications is May 17, Collins said.

The state Department of Health also outlined a process for an accredited medical school with an acute care hospital to become an approved “Academic Clinical Research Center.” The end goal is to provide more research to help the patient. The state is expected to approve eight registrants, all of whom must have at least $15 million in capital.

Participating medical schools and hospitals will require a partner to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana separate from current licensees in the program.

More than 25,000 patients have registered for the state program and more than 6,000 patients have purchased medical marijuana from dispensaries. State officials said 7,000 medical marijuana cards have been purchased. Most of the marijuana has been used for pain management, Collins said.

As of Thursday, 473 doctors were approved to issue certifications.

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, among them epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

Qualified patients with a doctor's recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Dispensaries are also allowed to sell equipment, such as vaping devices for liquid forms, to administer medical marijuana.

“I'm so proud of how quickly our program has been implemented by the department of health,” Briggs said.

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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