By William F. McDevitt, Esq.

Pennsylvania embraces the idea that marijuana can help alleviate the symptoms of 17 medical conditions suffered by thousands of residents. The difficulty is establishing a “robust” regulatory system that will supply the demand of Pennsylvania patients while satisfying federal authorities, who possess the legal authority (if not the funding) to end any such program at any time. But the Commonwealth, growers, dispensaries, physicians and patients are diligently working to bring medical marijuana to the people who it would benefit.

As of November 15, 2017, 2 of the 12 licensed grower/processors in Pennsylvania have been approved to begin production. Cresco Yeltrah of Brookville and Standard Farms of White Haven each received authorization from the Department of Health to begin growing operations. They are expected to have product available for dispensaries by the Commonwealth’s January 1, 2018, target date.

Pennsylvania approved 27 companies to operate up to three medical marijuana dispensaries each. Of those 27 companies, 11 have elected to operate single dispensaries, 5 are planning on operating two sites and 11 are preparing to open three sites (54 total dispensaries in the Commonwealth). Some of these companies have faced local zoning approval issues. In September 2017, Terra Vida Holistic Centers, LLC was forced to relocate a prospective dispensary in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia County.

Currently, least 112 Pennsylvania physicians (and 8 out-of-state physicians) are listed on Pennsylvania’s Department of Health website as approved to certify patients to participate in the medical marijuana program. It is estimated that 100 physicians are in the process of enrolling. Since patient registration opened on November 1, 2017, it is estimated that between 3,800 and 4,200 patients have completed some portion of the required forms. This does not include approximately 324 Safe Harbor letters issued to the legal guardians of persons under the age of 18 who suffer from conditions for which medical marijuana is an approved treatment, and who are permitted to obtain cannabis from outside the Commonwealth.

However, the entire medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania still faces legal challenges. Keystone ReLeaf has filed an action in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court challenging the administrative process that resulted in the award of grower/processor and dispensary permits. Keystone ReLeaf has asked for an injunction of the entire medical marijuana program. This is in addition to 140 administrative appeals to the Department of Health, the status of which have not been publically disclosed. On a smaller scale, a federal lawsuit was filed against PharmaCann Penn, LLC by Simon Property Group, seeking an injunction against a dispensary that received approvals to open near the Philadelphia Mills mall in northeastern Philadelphia. Simon Property Group owns the Philadelphia Mills mall and the larger King of Prussia mall in Montgomery County.

With the Commonwealth’s January 1, 2018, deadline approaching fast, it appears that growers and dispensaries will be racing against the clock to obtain final approvals, deliver product and open for distribution.

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