Authored By: William F. McDevitt, Esq.

On December 27, 2017, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) provided an update on the status of Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program in advance of the Commonwealth’s self-imposed January 1, 2018, operational deadline. Your assessment of how well the program is doing depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

A total of eight grower/processors have been approved to commence operations: Cresco Yeltrah; Franklin Labs; GTI Pennsylvania, LLC; Ilera Healthcare LLC; Pennsylvania Medical Solutions, LLC; PurePenn, LLC; Standard Farms, LLC; and Terrapin Investment Fund 1, LLC. This means that four grower/processors holding DOH permits have missed their statutory readiness deadline.

Grower/processor readiness grade: 67%.

According to the DOH, 550 physicians have registered to assess and certify patients to receive medical marijuana. Of those, “nearly 250” have completed their training. In plain language, of the doctors willing to participate in the medical marijuana program, less than half can provide patients with the documentation necessary to obtain a patient identification card.

Physician certification grade: “nearly” 45%.

The DOH announced that 10,135 patients have registered to participate in the program, and 1,188 of those have been certified by a physician to participate. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 435 of the 1,188 DOH-certified patients received DOH-issued identification cards around Christmas.

DOH patient certification grade: 37%.

Pennsylvania patient screening grade: 12%.

As of December 27, 2017, no dispensaries have been certified by the DOH to begin operations. The DOH believes that dispensaries should be up and running by April 2018. This is beyond the statutory operations deadline but allowable under the Medical Marijuana Law, the temporary regulations and Pennsylvania administrative law, so long as the DOH and the dispensaries continue to work on solutions to any issues that may delay operational approval.

Dispensary (final) readiness grade: 0%.

While the DOH and permit-holding entities have been working hard to deliver medical marijuana to thousands of potential patients, the biggest end-of-the-year surprise came form the Pennsylvania State Police, which issued an undated statement on its website titled “Information for Medical Marijuana Cardholders.” Pennsylvania’s State Police have stated that anyone with a DOH-issued marijuana identification card will fail a background check when seeking to purchase a firearm in the Commonwealth, cannot retain ownership of any firearm purchased prior to receiving an identification card and cannot retain or renew a license to carry a firearm in the Commonwealth.

The State Police are responsible for maintaining firearms records, issuing licenses (to retailers and owners) and operating the Instant Check System required to legally complete firearms sales in Pennsylvania. The State Police take the position that since marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, the acknowledged use of marijuana disqualifies a patient from gun ownership under federal law. Under this reading, Pennsylvania patients must choose between medicine and firearms.

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.