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Pennsylvania eyes expanding medical marijuana to plant form

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Apr 9, 2018 2:33 PM
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Photo by United States Fish and Wildlife Service


(Harrisburg) -- A state medical marijuana board recommended Monday that Pennsylvania allow the sale of marijuana in dry leaf form, in theory to allow users to vaporize and inhale it, and expand the kinds of medical conditions it can be used to treat, including cancer remission therapy.

The Medical Marijuana Advisory Board voted to send the recommendations to Health Secretary Rachel Levine to decide whether the Department of Health should create regulations allowing the changes. The first medical marijuana sales in Pennsylvania began Feb. 15, nearly two years after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation authorizing it.

Wolf's office said the governor would wait for Levine's review before saying whether he supports the changes. However, in a statement, Wolf's office said there is room for improvement in the program, "especially in terms of financial and administrative barriers for patients."

In addition to cancer remission therapy, the board recommended that certified patients be able to use medical marijuana in opioid-addiction therapy and to treat neurodegenerative diseases and spastic movement disorders.

It also recommended that certified patients be able to bypass the law's requirement that patients first try other painkillers or therapies before they use it to treat severe pain.

Currently, the law allows the sale of medical marijuana in oils, pills, gels and liquids, but prevents dispensaries from selling marijuana that is designed to be smoked.

Cannabis consumer advocate Chris Goldstein said that no state law would prevent certified medical marijuana users from buying the dry leaf product and smoking it legally, instead of vaporizing it.

"I'm sure patients are going to go home and smoke it, and there's nothing wrong with it," Goldstein said. "This is how humans have used cannabis for 10,000 years and it's how people should have access to it in Pennsylvania."

Selling dry leaf marijuana will have two other important benefits for patients, Goldstein said.

It will allow patients or caregivers to process it at home in small batches to better control dosage and it will substantially lower prices in Pennsylvania, which are currently $60 to $144 per gram for processed oil, Goldstein said.

"We're way off the market as far as where patient affordability should be," Goldstein said.

Buyers currently pay $200 to $250 per ounce for dry leaf marijuana on the underground market, or under $10 per gram, Goldstein said.

The 2016 law allows the departments of Health and Revenue to impose price caps if they determine that prices are "unreasonable or excessive."

That makes Pennsylvania the only medical marijuana state where regulators have a mechanism to cap or set prices, Goldstein said.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- A state medical marijuana board is recommending that Pennsylvania allow the sale of marijuana in dry leaf form, in theory to allow users to vaporize and inhale it.

The Medical Marijuana Advisory Board voted 11-0 Monday to send the recommendation to Health Secretary Rachel Levine to decide whether the Department of Health should create regulations allowing it.

The law still prevents dispensaries from selling marijuana that's designed to be smoked. But cannabis consumer advocate Chris Goldstein says no state law would prevent certified medical marijuana users from buying the dry leaf product and smoking it legally, instead of vaporizing it.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration says he'll wait for the health secretary's review.

The law also permits the sale of pills, oils and liquids.

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