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Medical marijuana could expand to leaf form in Pennsylvania

Ben Schmitt
| Friday, April 6, 2018, 3:15 p.m.
A leaf of marijuana
Associated Press
A leaf of marijuana

Pennsylvanians may soon be able to buy medical marijuana in dried leaf form, but it doesn't mean people can smoke it.

A proposal under consideration by state health officials would allow for vaping of dry leaf through an electronic device. The law would continue to forbid smoking dry leaf medical marijuana, according to state Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson.

“It's ironic to say, ‘You can have the plant material, but you can't smoke it,' ” said Pittsburgh attorney Patrick Nightingale of the law practice Cannabis Legal Solutions, which serves medical marijuana clients. “But I would want clients to understand they are breaking the law if they smoke it. The products for vaping flower material are out there and readily available.”

Nightingale said leaf marijuana can easily be ground up for vaping devices.

Statewide, medical marijuana is legal in pills, oils, tinctures, concentrates for vaping or ointments.

On Monday, the state's Medical Marijuana Advisory Board is scheduled to vote in Harrisburg on a subcommittee recommendation to allow dried leaf marijuana into the market. Any recommendation would be forwarded to Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who would issue a final determination, according to Hutcheson.

The medical marijuana law does not require additional legislative action beyond Levine's determination, Hutcheson said.

The medical marijuana board has majority and minority representatives from the state House and Senate.

Diana Briggs of Washington Township in Westmoreland County is a medical marijuana caregiver for her 17-year-old son, Ryan, who suffers from epilepsy. She said she supports adding leaf marijuana to the market.

“I'm absolutely thrilled that flower may be added,” she said. “That is, of course, the cheapest form of the medicine. So it will allow many more patients, who may currently be struggling with the cost of oils, tinctures, etc., to access this medicine.”

The board also will vote to expand the list of 17 qualifying health conditions to include palliative care and terminal illness.

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, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

Gabe Perlow, CEO of grower and processor, PurePenn in McKeesport, said he was excited about the potential of adding leaf medical marijuana.

“This possible expansion is a major benefit to patients already in the program, and for those hesitant to enter the program, as flower is a more common form of administration with which they may already have familiarity,” he said.

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

As of Friday afternoon, more than 25,000 patients had registered for the medical marijuana program, about 11,000 of whom have been certified by physicians. More than 914 doctors have been registered to participate, of whom 511 have completed the state's four-hour training course required for certification.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016. Dispensaries opened in February.

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

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