Authored By:  William F. McDevitt, Esq.

Polls conducted on local, state and national levels consistently show that the public would like to change the federal government’s approach to marijuana.

In January of 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that an October, 2017 survey showed that 61% of Americans support marijuana legalization. A survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy (“MDPS”) in January of 2018 reported that America’s support for recreational cannabis varied by region, from 39% (“South”) to 63% (“Pacific Coast”). Interestingly, that same poll showed that support for medical cannabis was greater in the “South” (34%), lower in the “Pacific Coast” (25%) and lowest in the Northeast (23%). The MDPS poll, sponsored by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, indicated that only 16% of all Americans want the federal government to maintain its current policies. Polls conducted by CBS News (April 2017), Quinnipiac University (August 2017) and Gallup (October 2017) consistently support a change in federal marijuana laws.

But, there appears to be a difference in the public sphere and the professional sphere. Pennsylvania is still struggling to enlist physicians in medical marijuana certification programs. In 2014, Pennsylvania had 39,176 active physicians of which 12,693 identified themselves as primary care physicians. As of March 4, 2018, approximately 600 Pennsylvania physicians have been approved to certify patients for medical marijuana. Despite the increasing availability of training and the administration’s concerted effort to enlist physician involvement, less than 2% of doctors in Pennsylvania presently associate themselves with medical cannabis. Similar physician enlistment problems have been noted in New York, which also requires physician registration and training prior to participation in its medical cannabis program.

Data about other professions is largely anecdotal. Attorneys in larger firms have said that they face problems when marketing to the cannabis market. Other attorneys may fear that clients will brand them all as a “pot firm.” That fear may not be unfounded; conservative clients have been known to respond unfavorably to articles and postings concerning cannabis. Professional firms, from lawyers to financial advisors to architects, actively assess the risk of advertising cannabis work with the possibility of alienating their existing client base.

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Law prohibits discrimination in the licensing or the maintenance of professional licenses based upon participation in the medical marijuana program, either as a patient or as a person providing services to a cannabis organization or patient. But, many professionals fear that participation in the industry will label them as either pot advocates or marijuana users. Although there is great public support for medical marijuana, there is still a prejudice against “pot.” In Pennsylvania, the few remaining licenses for growers and dispensaries has convinced many professionals that the cannabis ship has sailed and pursuing that business will result in being “pot-listed” and losing existing clients.

Until the ancillary service market for cannabis businesses grows, many Pennsylvania professionals may decide that the potential stigma of associating themselves with medical cannabis outweigh today’s financial opportunities. But, tomorrow’s opportunities in the growing cannabis industry are enormous. As public support for cannabis increases, laws change, stigmas disappear and knowledgeable, experienced professionals flourish.

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.