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Medical marijuana in Pa.: Who gets the $$?

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | May 4, 2017 6:47 PM
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In this Tuesday, March 28, 2017 photo, Meagan Holt holds a vial of cannabis oil she uses to comforts her daughter Maddie. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

 

(Undated) -- In June, 39 companies will emerge as victors in a statewide competition for permits to grow and sell medical marijuana.

Twelve companies will be allowed to grow marijuana and process it into medical products. Twenty-seven other companies will be able to sell it at dispensaries, with up to three dispensaries per company.

More than 500 companies applied for the permits, according to a recent Pennsylvania Department of Health estimate. Each permit to grow marijuana costs $10,000. Each permit to open a dispensary costs $5,000.

In addition, companies had to pay the state $200,000 per grower processor permit and $30,000 per location for each dispensary. The 400-some-odd companies that don't get permits will be refunded this money. However, the state will keep the money from those awarded the permits.

That all adds up to about $8.7 million, according to a line item in this year's state budget.

The budget also projects about $1.4 million in tax income for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, as well as $750,000 in "patient identification card fees."

All told, the state's fledgling medical marijuana program projects a $7.9 million cash balance for the next fiscal year, the budget shows. Here's where that money goes:

40 percent to run the program

The Medical Marijuana Program runs without taxpayer assistance, said April Hutcheson, Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman. The plan is to keep it that way.

The program employs about five people, but it could employ more after permits are issued and the first medical cannabis is sold.

The program funds also includes money for "outreach and other required projects," the budget states.

The state will assess funding to determine how much it needs to operate in the future, Hutcheson said. "When things get up and running they'll continue to assess their need. Right now it's sufficiently staffed."

15 percent for low-income patients

The price of medical marijuana will be "market-based," Hutcheson said. She declined to guess how much a dosage of medical cannabis would cost on average.

Read: Medical marijuana is last hope for this West York man

However much it costs, this portion of the funds "will assist with the cost of providing medical marijuana to patients demonstrating financial hardship or need," as well as providing things like waivers and cost reuctions to identification card fees, the budget states.

"The additional support funds are really meant to make sure that money isn't a barrier to getting medication."

10 percent to combat drug abuse

Republican State Senator Mike Folmer introduced the medical marijuana bill in 2014 - and watched it die in the state House of Representatives.

He introduced it again in 2015, and this time its supporters were willing to add concessions, he said.

Folmer doesn't believe that medical marijuana use could lead to drug abuse - actually he believes it could decrease opiate addiction by providing an alternative for pain treatment.

Still, he and other legislators saw the 10 percent payout as a way to "sell the bill" and quell concerns among those who do believe that medical marijuana could pose addiction risks.

The details of exactly where that money will go - whether to state-run services or other groups - is still being worked out, Folmer said.

5 percent to police

It also remains unseen how, if at all, the legalized medical marijuana could create new issues for law enforcement agencies, Folmer said.

To that end, 5 percent of funds will be distributed "to local police departments which demonstrate a need in relating to efforts to support the Act," the budget states.

Working out the details

Folmer said "It was a long battle" to get the bill passed, and issues remain.

To the federal government, marijuana is still illegal. Because of that, doctors won't be able to prescribe it, Folmer said.

Rather, doctors will have to take a class and get added to a registry to "recommend" medical marijuana for any of 17 medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and epilepsy, Folmer said.

Though there's a lot to work out, the plan is going well. "I think in the end we're going to have a good process, once we get this up and running."

 

 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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