How much will medical marijuana cost in Pennsylvania?
With growers and processors in place for Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, now come questions about how much patients will pay for the products.
The answers are a bit fuzzy and could become chaotic.
The state will not set prices for soon-to-be unveiled dispensaries, according to the state Department of Health.
“The cost of medical marijuana depends on the pricing set by the dispensaries,” said DOH spokeswoman April Hutcheson. “The law directs the departments of health and revenue to monitor pricing and gives them the ability to cap pricing if necessary.”
Twenty-seven dispensaries are expected to be announced by the end of the week. Five of those will be located in a designated 11-county region that includes Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
When it comes to pricing, most dispensaries will pay attention to market trends in other states with medical marijuana programs, said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society.
“The only possibility is to look at existing states and see what passes for retail medical marijuana product pricing,” he said. “It's going to be interesting. If our dispensaries are charging more for various products than patients see in other states, there could be some outcry. Or if one dispensary is more expensive than another, patients may figure out not to patronize that place.”
Medical cannabis costs about $1,600 a pound nationally as of June 9, according to Cannabis Benchmarks spot index. However, unlike many other states, smoking of medical marijuana is prohibited in Pennsylvania.
Statewide growing operations will have processing capabilities to make pharmaceutical-grade creams, pills, tinctures, oils and ointments.
Diana Briggs, of Export, Westmoreland County, worries about price gouging. She currently is among 271 state residents with a safe harbor letter allowing her to purchase medical marijuana products from others states until Pennsylvania's program is operational. Her son, Ryan, 17, suffers from seizures on a daily basis.
Briggs said she's paid anywhere from $150 to $300 for a bottle containing about 3 ounces of medical marijuana oil. The oil, which she inserts into Ryan's feeding tube, lasts about six weeks. She said it's dramatically cut down on Ryan's seizures.
“I can't wait until I am able to go to a local dispensary and legally shop,” Briggs said. “I think the growers and dispensaries will realize that without repeat customers they will not have a business. A lot of caregivers are just now discovering that insurance doesn't cover this.”
Last week, the DOH awarded permits to 12 companies that applied to grow marijuana to help treat serious medical conditions.
“In the end, the growers will be the ones producing this so they'll play a huge role in setting the price,” Briggs said.
The Tribune-Review contacted several dispensaries Monday in Michigan, where medical marijuana is legal, to inquire about pricing. They declined to reveal prices over the phone.
Nightingale estimated a cartridge of marijuana oil for a vaping device at $25 to $50 in other states.
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.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016.
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, email@example.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.