On April 9th, Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana advisory board voted in some important changes to that state’s program. They recommended the sale of whole-plant cannabis (leaves and flowers) to patients. Further, they recommended expanding the number of serious health conditions that would qualify patients for medical marijuana.
Under Pennsylvania’s 2016 Medical Marijuana Act, patients can only use oils, tinctures, extracts, ointments, vaping liquids, and active compounds in pill form. Now that the board has voted for whole-plant products, it’s up to Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to enact their recommendations. Her decision could take up to a year.
Making whole-plant cannabis available to patients would reduce patient costs, since raw plant materials are considerably cheaper than processed products. The board specifically recommended that dry leaf products be made available for patients who wish to vape them. However, the state’s laws prohibit smoking medicinal marijuana, so dispensaries would not sell cannabis as joints or cigarettes. State laws also prohibit marijuana edibles.
That said, patients would be relatively free to roll their own smokables or cook their own edibles once they brought cannabis plant materials into the privacy of their own homes. Philadelphia marijuana advocate Chris Goldstein writes, “We’ve never had a report of state police or health officials cracking down on how patients consume their cannabis.”
With regard to expanding the list of serious health conditions, the advisory board recommended making cannabis available to patients suffering from spinal cord damage, dyskinetic movement disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and terminal illnesses. They also recommended that chronic pain sufferers who are going through opioid withdrawal have access to marijuana products to help alleviate their symptoms.
The original list of serious health conditions included cancer, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease. post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, sickle cell anemia, severe chronic or intractable pain, and autism.
So far, more than 25,000 patients have registered for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. About 11,000 of them have been certified by doctors. Conversely, only about 500 physicians have completed the four hours of additional training required before they can recommend marijuana to their patients.
Many of the 53,000 doctors in the state are afraid to participate because of marijuana’s illegality at the federal level. The advisory board voted to let participating doctors opt out of being listed in the public registry. While this move addresses physician fears of being punished by federal authorities, patient advocates are concerned that if doctors opt out, the thousands of patients trying to get certified will have a hard time finding anyone qualified to do it. As with the other recommended changes, it’s up to the Secretary of Health to turn the recommendations into official state policy.