Earlier this year, Rachel Levine, the Health Secretary for the state of Pennsylvania approved a recommendation from the medical marijuana board to allow the sale of plants or dry leaves for patients with qualifying medical conditions.
She will also make medical marijuana accessible for people who suffer from opioid abuse, making this state the first to do so in the United States.
Giving patients access to the plants is a low-cost option over concentrated forms because it needs to be processed and will cost between $200-$300 per month. The flower can even treat other conditions by giving patients improved dosage control which is better than concentrated forms of the plant.
The availability of marijuana plants is expected to create a boon for dispensary operators and cultivators, improving turnaround time as well as demand.
Charlie Bachtell, a co-founder of Chicago-based Cresco Yeltrah is very excited about it. The company currently possesses a dispensary permit in Butler County and a grow-process permit in Jefferson County. He believes consumers will also be excited. The flower part of the marijuana plant will cost much less than the concentrates because nothing will need to be done to it.
He predicts that groups who currently hold permits to process and grow medical marijuana will begin to expand their operations. The flowers make up between 55-60% of their total sales in states that allow them to be sold. The market in Pennsylvania will continue to grow.
According to Pennsylvania law, it’s still illegal to eat or smoke medical marijuana, but the plant can be consumed legally through vaporization. The plant would be heated instead of burned and the patient would breathe in the vapors.
What makes the rule tough to enforce is the fact that the plant can be purchased and taken home, but no one really knows what the patient will do with it afterward. Dr. Levine expects patients to follow the prescription that’s given to them. She wants patients to have a medical effect from the plant, not an intoxicating one.
Marijuana flowers will not be the only option on the menu. Dr. Levine’s newly approved board recommendations will also let physicians take part in this program. They will certify patients but not list their names on a public registry. This will put physicians at ease and make them feel more comfortable about participating.
A recommendation was signed off by Dr. Levine which states that any patient under 18 years of age must have a pediatrician sub-specialist or specialist certify them. This implementation will be delayed for a year since there aren’t enough registered specialists.
Qualified medical conditions are expected to surge from 17 to 21. Spastic movement disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and remission therapy have all been added to the list recently.
The announcement, which was live-streamed on Monday by Dr. Levine in Harrisburg, PA, underscores the rapid progress and growth of the state’s program. Back in February, some of the first patients received tinctures, oils, and pills as well as other concentrated forms of the marijuana plant.
During the meeting, Dr. Levine said that John Collins, who is the head of the medical marijuana program, has recently drafted regulatory changes which appeared in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on May 12th. Plant forms were made available in state-approved dispensaries over the summer.
The advisory board has also released 21 recommended changes to the state’s medical marijuana program, which signals their approval on almost everything except one that could limit practitioners’ abilities to specify the dose or form of medicinal marijuana a patient can get. Two similar proposals passed just barely with 6 out of 12 board members in favor of them and one abstaining.
One board member recommended a default time of one year for patient certifications. Another board member recommended adding medicinal marijuana as an alternative for treating opioid addictions. Among other states that have already legalized medicinal marijuana, this has become a ground-breaking move.
Sue Sisley, an Internist, and president of the Research Institute in Scottsdale, AZ as well as a lead investigator who studies the usage of cannabis for the treatment of PTSD in combat veterans has given a two thumbs up regarding the state’s opioid decision.
In an e-mail she wrote on Monday, she discussed how difficult it was for Pennsylvania to be the first state to do something regarding cannabis because of how radioactive it’s become on a political level. Some people won’t like the decision, but Dr. Levine believes that opioid usage has become a serious health emergency. No solution should be written off especially if it prevents deaths due to opioid overdoses.
Dr. Sisley pressed the advisory board in February to make the flowers accessible to patients because they have healing effects much stronger than other forms of marijuana. Dosages can also be controlled better.
About 30,413 Pennsylvanians have already registered for the state’s medical marijuana program. About 12,000 certified patients have obtained ID cards which allow them to purchase products in dispensaries that are state-approved.