By William F. McDevitt, Esq.

Patients are not permitted to grow their own plants. Only licensed dispensaries may distribute products, and distribution is limited to patients who possess both a physician’s certification and Pennsylvania Department of Health registration card. Grower/processors bear the burden of assuring that their products “have a consistent cannabinoid profile” and are labeled to inform the patient of any cannabanoid content greater than 0.1 percent. By regulation, medical marijuana in Pennsylvania must contain both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Like Pennsylvania, many states have specific product form regulations or prohibit delivery methods that functionally prohibit distribution of leaves or plants, including Minnesota (allows liquid, pill or vaporizable product only), New Jersey (allows edibles only for children), New York (prohibits smoking as a delivery method), Ohio (prohibits smoking), and West Virginia (prohibits smoking). However, as of the date of publication, medical marijuana statutes in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington allow persons with physician-recognized medical conditions to grow and possess plants (subject to certain restrictions). Other states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey and Washington, D.C., prohibit cultivation but allow patient possession of marijuana in leaf form to amounts between two and six ounces (varying by state).

Leaf marijuana prohibitions are thought to enhance the public’s perception that states are providing medical rather than recreational access. Initially, Pennsylvania sought to prohibit inhalation-based products altogether; vaporization/nebulization products were not part of the original proposed grower/processor regulations. While several policy makers would prefer to avoid associating medical marijuana with cinematic images of recreational smoking, the realities of THC and CBD make such restrictions problematic.

Years of federal regulation has limited the study of the effects of cannabinoids on humans, making it is difficult to determine the correct dosages of THC/CBD to alleviate specific conditions. Patients working with their physicians must try different dosages and delivery methods to assess a product’s benefits (if any). Initially, most patients will rely on anecdotal dosage information.

A patient’s ability to determine how the product is working can be difficult. Orally administered THC/CBD takes longer to work than inhaled product, often resulting in patients prematurely taking additional doses. Digestion delivers less cannabinoid to the bloodstream at a slower rate, by volume of product, than inhalation. Inhalation allows for faster delivery of cannabinoids at a more easily modulated rate, and is preferable for assessing a product’s effects.

While it is unlikely that the stigma of leaf marijuana will go away, only time will tell if Pennsylvanians who accept marijuana as medicine will seek to decrease patient costs by advancing or advocating for personal cultivation. Similarly, as more dosage and treatment information becomes available, any difference in benefits between leaf and vaporized products will likely be considered by physicians and patients.

About the Author

William F. McDevitt is a partner in the Philadelphia office of national law firm Wilson Elser, where he is a member of the firm’s Cannabis Law practice. He can be reached at william.mcdevitt@wilsonelser.com