Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Program is growing fast

Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Program is growing fast

Pennsylvania launched its legal medical cannabis program in early 2018 and, in its first week alone of sales, saw an estimated 1,700 patients visiting the state’s dispensaries, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. All in all, the launch was considered a success, although there were some hiccups along the way as well.

The state has already registered around 19,600 patients in its new legal medical cannabis program, yet just 5,000 of them have actually been certified by a doctor. Moreover, only around 380 doctors have so far been authorized to write medical marijuana recommendations. Many more, however, are expected seek such authorization in the near future. Certifying physicians to recommend medical marijuana is a time consuming process, however, as doctors must go through medical cannabis training first.  Services like are very popular among patients.

Currently, 17 medical conditions qualify a patient to receive a legal medical cannabis card. Every patient holding a card is permitted to purchase a one month supply of medical marijuana per dispensary visit. Only non smokable cannabis products such as tinctures, creams, oils, pills, gels and other derivatives are permitted for sale in the state at present. Also permitted for sale at state dispensaries are liquid derivatives that can be used in a nebulizer or vaporizers. Also prohibited from sale, however, in addition to smokable derivatives, are cannabis infused edibles, like baked goods.

The state DOH reports that over 1,100 certified medical marijuana patients and caregivers have made purchases at state dispensaries in their first week of legal operation. One dispensary owner cited over 300 appointments with pharmacists on staff made within just the first six days of operation. It is still too early, however, the department states, to compile any authoritative medical marijuana sales data.

While the legalization of medical marijuana in the state is certainly welcomed by Pennsylvania medical cannabis users, many patients were concerned about the high prices charged for products at the dispensaries. Moreover, there was a wide variation in prices charged for even the same products at different dispensaries. This lack of price consistency and uniformity across the space could create undue competition in a saturated marketplace and create the potential for unfairness and abuse on the part of dispensary owners of legalized medical cannabis, according to activists.

Lawyers representing the medical marijuana industry argue, however, that the cause for the higher prices in Pennsylvania dispensaries is actually due to the higher costs of marijuana production in the state as compared with other states. A pound of medical marijuana that costs about $500 to grow in a state like California, for example, might costs as much as $1,600 or more to grow in Pennsylvania. One attorney specializing in regulated substances quoted an estimate of a cost of $5 to $10 million to become a legal medical marijuana grower and processor in Pennsylvania. This higher production cost would, the lawyers argue, obviously, reasonably and necessarily be passed down to the end user, i.e. the patient. They further propose that this price discrepancy could ultimately lead to a pricing war favoring the large growers and disadvantaging the small and mid scale farmers. Right now, as in many other industries, market forces are being trusted to maintain competitiveness in medical cannabis pricing.

There is also a move currently being made among patients, politicians and activists to expand the legal medical cannabis menu to include smokable flowers and marijuana infused edibles. Among those politicians advocating for this expansion is Democratic Senator Daylin Leach. To include these new items on the legal medical marijuana menu, legislative approval or action is required. In this case, the state DOH is authorized to give that approval or take that action.

Another hitch being faced by the budding medical marijuana industry in Pennsylvania is the fact that, while a dozen licenses have been issued to marijuana growers and processors, only one of them had actually provided products to retailers within the first week of the official opening of legal dispensaries in the state. Demand, however, far surpassed that supply, with many dispensaries selling out of some products in their first hour of operation. Dispensary operators are scrambling to restock sold out inventories and anticipate subsequent medical cannabis harvests. Some grower-processors will not yet have harvests available to ship, however, until months hence. As such, some Pennsylvania medical marijuana card holders could find themselves waiting between 18 months and two years before even being able to reliably or consistently procure their medical cannabis from a local dispensary.

Some industry watchers anticipate that the Pennsylvania medical cannabis program will ultimately grow to become one of the biggest markets in the country. The Allentown Morning-Call newspaper reported that the Pennsylvania medical marijuana market launched as an estimated $125 million industry and is expected to build and expand at a 180 percent rate. By 2020, the Pennsylvania medical cannabis market is expected to constitute 9.2 percent of the overall medical marijuana industry in the United States.

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