Marijuana

 

Pennsylvania is on the cusp of allowing medical marijuana, with legislators approving a bill that Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to sign by margins 42-7 in the Senate Tuesday and then 149-46 in the House Wednesday. 

The 80-page bill has changed slightly from its earlier form. Here's a rundown on what it says.

You can watch Gov. Wolf sign the bill into law here at 1 p.m. Sunday. 

How soon will patients be able to get medical marijuana?

Not until regulations and the growing, processing and dispensing system that the bill outlines are in place. Steve Hoenstine, spokesman for key sponsor Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), estimated that will take about a year and a half. 

The bill does include a paragraph saying it's not a violation of the act "if a parent or guardian of a minor under 18 years of age lawfully obtains medical marijuana from another state, territory of the United States or any other country to be administered to the minor."

However, Hoenstine cautioned people against relying on that provision, noting that it hasn't been tested and that transporting marijuana across state lines is still a federal offense. 

"Until this protocol is fully up and running, there's no guarantee that you're protected to possess marijuana of any kind in Pennsylvania," he said.

Who can get it?

To receive medical marijuana, patients will need a certification from a physician registered with the Department of Health and a valid identification card issued by the department that includes their name, address and date of birth.

They must also be diagnosed with one of the following 17 conditions:

  • cancer
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • ALS
  • Parkinson's disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • epilepsy
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • neuropathies
  • Huntington's disease
  • Crohn's disease
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • intractable seizures
  • glaucoma
  • sickle cell anemia
  • autism
  • neuropathic pain
  • or severe chronic or intractable pain that is untreatable.

What forms of medical marijuana will be allowed?

The bill does not authorize smoking marijuana. It allows dispensing of medical marijuana only as a pill, oil, tincture or liquid; in a topical form, such as a gel, cream or ointment; or in a form medically appropriate for vaporization or nebulization.

Will patients be able to grow it themselves?

No. Patients would not be allowed to legally grow their own marijuana.

Who will be allowed to grow marijuana? 

The state will license up to 25 growers and processors. There will be a nonrefundable initial application fee of $10,000, and applicants must show that they have at least $2 million in capital, with at least $500,000 on deposit with a financial institution.

Those granted licenses will pay a one-year permit fee of $200,000, with a renewal fee of $10,000. 

Growers and processors will also be required to operate under close supervision of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and to use an electronic inventory tracking system accessible to the department. 

Who will be allowed to dispense marijuana?

The state will license up to 50 dispensaries, which can each operate up to three locations.

There will be a nonrefundable initial application fee of $5,000, and applicants must show that they have at least $150,000 on deposit with a financial institution. Those granted licenses will pay a one-year permit fee of $30,000 for each location, with a renewal fee of $5,000. 

Like growers and processors, they will also operate under close supervision and be required to use an electronic tracking system. 

Who will be in charge of the program?

The Department of Health would have to write regulations and monitor the growth, transportation, possession, processing, testing and sale of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

That includes maintaining a database of all patients approved to use it and all caregivers approved to assist in its use.

The department will also develop training courses for medical professionals; approve safety information that dispensaries must provide to patients; create an identification card system for patients and caregivers; and ensure the advertising and marketing of medical marijuana is consistent with federal regulations governing prescription drugs.

Caregivers and owners and employees of growers, processors and dispensaries will be required to submit fingerprints for a criminal record background check before getting a permit or identification card.

What will the department be tracking?

The electronic inventory tracking system monitored daily by the state is supposed to track the medical marijuana from seed through the sale to a dispensary and a patient or caregiver, including information from the identification card presented by the patient or caregiver.

It also must include daily sales, prices paid and systems to track the recall of defective medical marijuana and plant waste.

Will there be a tax on medical marijuana?

Yes. The bill imposes a 5 percent tax on the gross receipts that a grower or processor gets from the sale of medical marijuana to another grower or processor or a dispensary. However, the sales are exempt from the state sales tax.

What will the fees and taxes from medical marijuana be used for? 

Forty percent will go to the Department of Health for its operations and outreach, and 30 percent will be used for medical treatment research. Another 15 percent will go to help medical marijuana patients and caregivers with the costs of background checks, identity cards or purchasing the product; 10 percent will go to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs for drug abuse prevention, counseling and treatment; and 5 percent will be used for local law enforcement grants.

How did local legislators vote on the bill?

Of Lancaster County’s 13 local state legislators, 10 voted against the bill.

The yes votes came from the county’s only Democratic representative, Mike Sturla of Lancaster city, and Reps. Mark Gillen and Jim Cox, Republicans who represent smaller portions of the municipalities near Berks County.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.