PA Medical Marijuana Industry Off to a Hazy Start

Photo Credit: Esteban Lopez on

By Jennifer Carter, Staff Writer

February 15, 2018 marked the first day that dispensaries in the state of Pennsylvania could legally sell medical marijuana to those with patient identification cards. The first sale occurred nearby at CY+ dispensary in Butler County. Local news reported that customers included the mother of a 17-year-old epileptic who suffers from 400 seizures a day. Medical marijuana has reduced those seizures to only 50 in a day.[1]

Pennsylvania legislators passed the Medical Marijuana Act almost two years prior,[2] admitting Pennsylvania into the group of states allowing medical and/or recreational marijuana use and sales, while marijuana remains illegal at the federal level as a Schedule I controlled substance. In order to be a Schedule I substance and given the highest regulation, a drug must “a) have a high potential for abuse, b) have no currently acceptable medical use in treatment in the US, and c) have a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug…under medical supervision.”[3] Numerous states have ignored this outdated categorization from 1970 and legalized the drug anyway, in some instances by direct vote.[4]

Without delving into the legitimacy of its medicinal properties, one thing can be sure – this year will kick off a booming cannabis industry in the state of Pennsylvania.  As of February, 2018, over 19,000 people had registered to receive a medical marijuana card.[5]  Patients may receive a card if they suffer from any of 17 “serious medical conditions” listed in the Act.[6] Physicians must opt in and undergo training to become qualified to certify patients to receive a card.[7]

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (“DOH”) capped the number of dispensaries in the state to 50 (with no more than 3 locations each); there are currently 81 locations registered throughout the state, only a handful of which have begun operating.

Despite the slight initial number of operating dispensaries, supply-chain problems are already occurring. The Department of Health has approved only twelve distributor sites to grow, produce, and manufacture marijuana.[8] Of those twelve, only one was distributing product when the dispensaries opened in February.[9] This resulted in dispensaries lacking control over pricing and running out of product quickly.

This problem exists partly because of the highly contested forms of the drug allowed in the state. Currently, patients can purchase the drug in pill, oil, topical, tincture, liquid, or non-plant form appropriate for vaporization.[10] Dispensaries are limited to obtaining product only from DOH-approved growers and producers, as importing product from other states remains federally prohibited.

While the Department of Health is responsible for regulating certification, permits, and sales, a 15-member advisory board was created to promote the goals of the DOH and review and facilitate proposed changes in policy. For example, the advisory board has the ability to lift restrictions on the sale of marijuana “flower” and production of edibles. Few states have such restrictions, and lifting them reduces cost to the patient, due to a substantial decrease in processing cost and time.[11]

Children suffering from an enumerated serious medical condition can also gain access to the drug via a certified caregiver over the age of 21.[12] A safe harbor application is available for the caregiver, and letter forms are available for the caregiver to administer the drug on school campuses as well.[13]

Initiatives to change federal laws frequently infuse the news cycles, but the law remains unchanged. This means that Pennsylvania patients should err on the side of caution when medicating and traveling, educate themselves on the state’s laws, and strictly adhere to the state’s laws. provides a plethora of clear information under its medical marijuana subheading for patients, physicians, and curious minds.





[2] Medical Marijuana Act 35 P.S. §10231 effective May 17, 2016.

[3] 21 U.S.C.A. § 812(1)(A-C) (West)




[7] Id.





[12] Id.

[13] Id.

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