Pennsylvania recently introduced new legislation for the legal purchase and consumption of medical cannabis. Recreational cannabis remains illegal, though possession and consumption of small quantities is no longer a criminal offense.
The winds of change are blowing in Pennsylvania, where the next couple of years could see sweeping cannabis reforms come into effect. State officials recently decided that the time had come to stop making assumptions and to actually ask the public what it wants. In the meantime, Pennsylvania has a robust medical cannabis infrastructure, though all forms of recreational cannabis remain illegal.
When Was Medical Cannabis Legalized in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania was one of the more recent states to legalize medical cannabis. Senate Bill 3 came into effect in April 2016, introduced by Tom Wolf to assist patients with 17 qualifying conditions. The bill also provided details on the state’s future cannabis dispensary infrastructure, taxation on cannabis sales and so on. However, no allowance was included in the bill for qualifying medical patients to grow their own marijuana at home.
The bill passed with a huge majority of 149 votes to 46, making Pennsylvania the 24th state to bring legal medical cannabis legislation into effect.
What Was the Statewide Listening Tour?
When Governor Wolf took part in a Twitter Q&A session in December 2018, the subject of recreational cannabis legalization was raised. When asked about his feelings on the matter, he stated: "I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at [legalizing] recreational marijuana." Within a matter of week, Wolf confirmed he would embark on a tour of the state, asking people directly for their thoughts and input.
"We could choose to ignore what's going on in the world and just pretend that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, or we can actually open our eyes and ears and say, 'let's go out and ask—let's find out’” – Governor Tom Wolf.
It quickly became clear that support for recreational cannabis legalization was exceptionally strong. In fact, it’s estimated that around 70% of people polled during the tour said they would back a recreational cannabis bill. It’s therefore largely acknowledged that the legalization of recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania is more a case of ‘when’ than ‘if’.
What Was the Sunbury City Saga?
The City of Sunbury was propelled to national notoriety in January 2015, when Constable Ed Quiggle, Jr. put his signature to the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Reform Resolution. This would make Sunbury the first city in the United States to officially cease all law enforcement acts that “prohibit, penalize, or criminalize the possession, cultivation, or use of medical cannabis, hemp, cannabinoids, and other illegal or experimental drugs”.
How Can I Get a Medical Cannabis Card in Pennsylvania?
Obtaining a medical cannabis card isn’t as simple as making an appointment with a physician and asking for one. Instead, eligibility is assessed near exclusively on patients being diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition. Even then, you aren’t 100% guaranteed to be accepted for a medical cannabis card. You’ll be expected to have tried at least a handful of more conventional treatments for your condition, before being considered for medical cannabis. Find a rated and recommended cannabis doctor in your area and book an appointment to set the ball rolling.
Which Conditions Are Accepted for Medical Cannabis in Pennsylvania?
Patients diagnosed with any of the following conditions may qualify for a medical cannabis card in Pennsylvania:
Addiction Substitute Therapy – Opioid Reduction
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Cancer, Including Remission Therapy
Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
Dyskinetic and Spastic Movement Disorders
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
Sickle Cell Anaemia
There is a degree of flexibility and physicians may request a medical cannabis ID for patients with debilitating conditions that don’t appear on the list. Again, your doctor will advise you on the most appropriate course of action accordingly.
Where Can I Legally Consume Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania?
As it stands, the home of the patient is currently the only place medical cannabis can be consumed legally in Pennsylvania. Even then, under the strict condition that they have received permission from the owner – if they don’t personally own the property. Consumption of any form of medical cannabis in public places is strictly prohibited by state law.
Can I Get Fired for Using Medical Cannabis?
It’s technically possible, though relatively rare. Due to the fact that medical cannabis is still illegal at a Federal level, employers are free to take any action they see fit against cannabis used. Hence, they can bring disciplinary measures against medical cannabis patients – even if their consumption does not break any laws. It’s therefore important to speak to your employer directly, in order to determine where you stand.
What About Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis?
Pennsylvania adopts a strictly zero-tolerance policy to driving under the influence of any controlled substance. Even as a first offense, you could find yourself facing a $5,000 fine and up to six months behind bars. If you are regularly using cannabis for medical purposes, you’ll need to think carefully about whether or not you’re able to drive.
Can I Drive with Cannabis in My Car?
You can, but you’ll be expected to keep it in its original sealed packaging, until you reach your destination. It should also be kept out of the driver’s reach and must under no circumstances be taken across state lines.
Am I Allowed to Grow My Own Medical Cannabis?
For the time being, Pennsylvania hasn’t introduced any allowances for medical cannabis patients to grow their own plants. Only licensed cultivators are permitted to grow cannabis – all other forms of cultivation are strictly against the law.
Do All Physicians in Pennsylvania Prescribe Cannabis?
No, in fact only a small proportion of the state’s doctor community can prescribe cannabis. There are around 56,000 physicians in Pennsylvania, though less than 500 are permitted to prescribe cannabis. That’s 500 physicians serving the entire state – not nearly enough to cope with demand. It’s therefore perfectly possible that your nearest cannabis doctor could be quite a distance away.
What’s the Process of Applying for a Cannabis Card?
The process of setting yourself up with a medical cannabis card is comparatively easy and affordable. First, you’ll need to make an appointment with a licensed physician and be diagnosed with one of the conditions outlined above. After which, it’s a case of submitting your application online, along with the application fee of $50. If your application is accepted, you’ll receive your cannabis card by mail within a couple of weeks. You’re then free to pick up your quota of cannabis from any licensed dispensary state-wide.
What Cannabis Products Can I Buy in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania currently has a compact network of around 15 dispensaries, which isn’t nearly enough to satisfy demand. In terms of product availability, the state’s cannabis policy is strictly no-smoking. As such, you won’t find any products at the counter you can take away and load into your favourite bong. Instead, it’s predominantly a tale of edibles, tinctures, capsules and vapes. Various cannabis concentrates are also available.
Is Medical Cannabis in Pennsylvania Expensive?
Yes, and prohibitively so for a lot of would-be patients. Incredibly, the last state-wide survey found that medical cannabis is being sold for anything from $60 to nearly $150 per gram. That’s not a typo – per GRAM. The medical cannabis program in Pennsylvania may be fairly accessible, but in terms of pricing, it’s one of the most restrictive in the entire country.
But Will My Insurance Cover the Costs?
Sadly not – insurers at all levels are apprehensive about paying for medical cannabis, due to the fact that it is still illegal at a federal level. There are a few smaller insurers across the country that have begun covering the costs of certain weed products, but the overwhelming majority offer no support at all. In states like Pennsylvania, covering the costs of medical cannabis can be borderline impossible for most.
When Will Pennsylvania Legalize Recreational Cannabis?
At the time of writing, it’s almost impossible to say. While evidence would seem to suggest that the public in general supports legalization, when exactly it will be put to the vote remains unknown. Realistically, it could be as soon as 2020. However, the medical cannabis infrastructure of Pennsylvania still has a long way to go. Again, it’s more a case of ‘when’ it happens rather than ‘if’, but coming up with a concrete date or timeline isn’t possible for the time being.