PA’s draft medical cannabis rules a good start, experts say

By Omar Sacirbey

Pennsylvania has moved quickly to issue draft regulations governing its new medical marijuana program, a sign the state is keen to get the MMJ industry off on the right foot.

The proposed rules are detailed and offer marijuana entrepreneurs a road map of where the program is headed, experts said.

Among other things, the proposed regulations aim to promote racial diversity within the state’s emerging medical cannabis industry, and they mandate the use of natural pesticides in what is expected to become a major MMJ market.

“The thing that shouldn’t be lost in this is the speed with which the government developed regulations. Everything so far has happened on schedule,” Michael Bronstein, the Philadelphia-based co-founder of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, said.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania MMJ’s legislation into law in April, making the state the 24th to have a workable MMJ program. (Ohio and Louisiana have since passed legislation setting up workable programs as well).

Bronstein noted the speedy release of the draft rules in Pennsylvania shows Wolf’s administration “really wants this to happen, and they want to do it well.”

Brett Roper, chief operating officer of Medicine Man Technologies, a cannabis consulting firm in Denver, called the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s regulatory blueprint” robust and reasonably crafted,” although he’d like to see a few tweaks.

“Overall we’re pleased with what we’re seeing,” he added.

The draft regulations reflect the state’s MMJ law but also contain new details. For example:

  • A business must have a diversity plan that includes information on how it plans to hire minority employees.
  • Businesses cannot import out-of-state marijuana plants, but growers will have a 30-day window to import seeds for their first crops. Subsequent crops must be grown with seeds, clones or grafts produced at in-state facilities.
  • Growers must report concentrations in plants of THC, CBD and at least seven other cannabinoids.
  • Growers must implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and report real-time inventory tracking of seeds, plants, clones, grafts, marijuana ready for sale, and damaged or contaminated marijuana awaiting disposal.
  • Growers must have a plan in place to recall contaminated marijuana; it must include notifying state regulators and the public about the contamination.
  • Growers may only use about 50 pesticides, herbicides and fungicides approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, including those containing ingredients such as cinnamon oil, garlic oil and white pepper.

Pennsylvania has a population of nearly 13 million people and a substantial list of approved medical conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and severe chronic or intractable pain – elements that could make it one of the biggest MMJ markets in the country. The pain conditions, however, contain the caveat that MMJ can be used only when conventional or opiate therapies are ineffective.

According to initial estimates by Marijuana Business Daily, Pennsylvania’s dispensary revenues could surpass $100 million a year – and potentially get much higher – a few years after the first dispensaries open. It could be two years or more before dispensaries open their doors.

The draft rules also reflect the following that were spelled out when the law was approved in April:

  • Initially, 25 grower licenses and 50 dispensary licenses will be issued.
  • Each company that wins a dispensary license can open up to three locations, meaning there could be up to 150 dispensaries.
  • Up to five of the 25 grower licenses can be vertically integrated with dispensaries, while the overall number of grower and dispensary licenses could expand in the future.
  • Growers must pay $10,000 to apply for a license, while the actual permit will run $200,000. Growers must then pay $10,000 annually to renew the license.
  • Dispensary application fees will be set at $5,000, while dispensary licenses will cost $30,000 and be good for one year. Renewal fees will cost $5,000.

While pleased with the suggested rules, Roper said several points need clarification – something he hopes regulators will do in the months ahead.

For example, the draft regulations say a batch of flower must weigh no more than five pounds, but don’t specify whether that is dry weight or wet weight, Roper said.

It’s a small but important detail, because plants lose 80% to 90% of their weight in moisture over a couple of weeks after being harvested. And a wet weight would sharply the limit size of a batch. Roper believes omitting “dry” is a simple mistake, but one that should be corrected nevertheless.

The proposed rules also are overly stringent on background checks, Roper said.

For example, it’s understandable they mandate license winners to perform background checks on long-term permanent employees; but the draft regulations also require background checks for contractors and subcontractors, like construction workers or equipment installers who help build the business – but aren’t on the marijuana firm’s payroll when it opens.

The suggested rules also state that if regulators find mistakes or omissions in license applications, they will notify the applicant and give them 30 days to correct the application. On top of that, the draft rules say applicants can ask for a 90-day extension to file their application, Roper said.

“You can have six months of application back-and-forth before they even announce something,” Roper said.

Brian Fox, whose company Cannavations recently won a processing license in Maryland, is also eyeing Pennsylvania. He likes the speedy way the rules were released. And he likes the idea of having businesses in two neighboring mid-Atlantic states.

“It would be easy to expand into Pennsylvania with a lot of the same people,” Fox said. “It would be an advantage to have people who could help me in both states.”

But he’s also worried about the state’s product limitations, such as not being allowed to sell flower.

“There seem to be quite a few limits in what we can produce and what can go to the patient in the end,” Fox said. “I’m just not sure yet if Pennsylvania will be a great fit for us or not.”

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]

4 comments on “PA’s draft medical cannabis rules a good start, experts say
  1. Michael David on

    This state has clearly been influenced by big pharma. $200k to grow? (Can you say extortion?) Patients have to try addictive opiates first? (This massive red flag just flies right by huh?) Can’t sell flower? Weight limit on batch? Oops my plants grew to big… Oh yea they are alive, I forgot. Wtf? The fact that people accept this type of shit is exactly why it is there.

    Reply
    • Lawrence Goodwin on

      I hear you on all points, Michael. But Pennsylvania legislators were actually “influenced” more by cannabis-hating state lawmakers across the border in New York (whose 19,000 physicians, by and large, shun medical cannabis as they gladly keep peddling Big Pharma pills). In 2014, New York and Minnesota passed nearly identical laws with the “no dried flower sales” restriction and tight limits on cannabis growers/dispensaries. PA and NY have similar land masses, so the PA program at least seems more fair to qualified patients in terms of eventual access through 150 different dispensary locations. Contrast that with New York’s mere 20 locations. It’s a farce! NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, still a firm believer in the pathetic “gateway drug” theory, fears for his career ambitions as a Democrat if he “allows” more dispensaries or any smoking of cannabis flowers for legitimate medical needs. Cuomo points to the unhealthy act of smoking itself as a means to distract attention from his office’s woeful (and possibly criminal) suppression of viable medical cannabis commerce. Politicians in MN, PA and many other states are basically following suit. The worst part of this story is that politicians NEVER had the right to take away medical cannabis products from doctors and the people to begin with. We need immediate nationwide relief from the anti-“marihuana” tyranny. I pray it arrives very soon.

      Reply
  2. Bob on

    As a pain patient I’ve been using addictive and deadly medicine for years and need this medicine in combination with my other medicine. It sucks that people like me have to Buy something from somebody that I can make myself. I garden and take pride in gardening and not being allowed to Grow my own medicine pisses me off. This state isn’t thinking about the people because if they were they’d allow us to grow ten plants and allow us to use our flowers that we grow. I smoke while I’m waiting for my pills to kick in. When I need my medicine for my pain I need it then! The quick help is smoking a few hits off my pipe and that helps me until the pills kick in. I feel growing your own medicine is the best option for some patients. I know I can grow better plants than they can and I feel I should have that right to grow and use. Seem like the state of PA is out to make a few selected growers and dispensary owners Rich off the sick. I think we should be able to SAVE money not spend more. This state needs to allow us to grow our own.

    Reply
    • Don on

      I agree about the chronic pain and the no smoking rule. I certainly hope that oil is recommended for vaporization. The pain is gonna kill me before lung disease ever will. It’s a quality of life issue that’s being sold to the wealthy to benefit from the sick and injured while we wait for the beurocracy intended to collect the revenue. Frankly eating marijuana capsules is just asking for overmedicating by those unfamiliar with the slower onset and Much different affect than smoking or vaporizing provides. The law seems tailored to failure…

      Reply

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