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Health

Pennsylvania board recommends sale of leaf medical marijuana

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, April 9, 2018, 10:30 a.m.
A leaf of marijuana
Associated Press
A leaf of marijuana

A state medical marijuana advisory board voted Monday to recommend allowing dried leaf marijuana into the market.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine must decide whether to accept the recommendation for it to become statewide policy.

Levine chaired the advisory board meeting, which voted 11-0 in favor of allowing "dry leaf or plant form for administration by vaporization." One board member abstained from the vote.

The board also recommended that people be allowed to use medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction. Six members voted for that recommendation, while four members opposed it and two abstained.

The medical marijuana law does not require additional legislative action beyond Levine's determination, state Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said. Levine has up to a year to make a final decision on the board's recommendations.

The medical marijuana board has bipartisan representation from the state House and Senate.

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

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 dried leaf form is cheaper than other products available at dispensaries.

"This will allow those who were struggling with the prices of the processed medical marijuana to have another option available," she said Monday. "It's a great day for the Pennsylvania medical marijuana program."

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, agreed that leaf marijuana is cheaper than other forms. Leach has been a longtime backer of medical marijuana.

"It was very important for the advisory board to approve patients' use of the plant material because it's the most affordable kind of medical marijuana and the most effective in treating certain medical conditions and symptoms," Leach said in a statement Monday.

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.

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.

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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