The Greener Institute_ November Updates from the PA MMJ Advisory Board

One of the best aspects of our Facebook group, Medical Marijuana PA, is the number of cannabis experts, advocates, and activists it possesses. A short time ago, one of those activists, Luke Shultz—who sits on the PA MMJ Advisory Board—shared some notes from the November 10th, 2020 Zoom meeting. In an effort to spread the word, we’re sharing his notes here for our patients and regular readers. 

The meeting was conducted by Dr. Rachael Levine, the PA Secretary of Health, and comprised 13 of Board members, including Director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, John Collins, and four Department of Health staff members. 

Director Collins provided several updates on the program, many of which were related to the MMJ market. In the first week of November, dispensary sales surpassed $1B. Additionally, he updated the board that the PA market now sits at approximately $1.7B—a 30% increase from the August financial report. At the growers and processor level, sales to state dispensaries exceed $675M. Dispensaries themselves report a growing rate of 2% per week, with weekly sales above $20M.

As far as program participants are concerned, there are over 460,000 enrolled. This number comprises 425,000 patients and 35,000 caregivers, with close to 280,000 active patient certifications. Currently, there are 2,000 registered practitioners, 1,500 of whom have completed the process and are capable of certifying patients, and at least 12 of which are pediatric certifying practitioners. Department of Health officials are continually reaching out to more pediatric physicians to encourage their participation in the MMJ program. 

Pennsylvania is now home to 27 operational growers and processors, allowing them to grow cannabis and produce products. Luke, who provided notes on the meeting, questioned Director Collins about the remediation. Luke describes remediation as, “flower that fails lab testing is decontaminated by using one or more of various processes so that it can be sold and used in the flower state or made into concentrated products.”

His question is a response to learning that there is currently approximately a thousand to several thousand pounds of flower stored by growers in quarantine vaults after it failed testing for microorganism contaminants. Luke believes that if put through extraction processes, such as CO2 or Hyrdocarbon extractions, the microbes would be destroyed and they could produce safe products like concentrates. 

As Luke wrote in his Facebook post, remediation of flower is considered controversial in some circles due to concerns over decontamination processes. According to Director Collins and DOH lawyers, remediation is currently not permitted in the PA MMJ program. This essentially means that the thousands of flower stored in quarantine will degrade over time and be destroyed. 

During the meeting, Dr. Levine also discussed an official report, submitted by the Department of Health in May to Governor Wolf, state Legislators, and other officials, that consisted of recommendations to the amendment of the PA MMJ Law, Act 16. Additionally, she discussed House Bill 2945, introduced by Representative Paul Schemel, that included 5 of the 6 recommendations to amend Act 16 that the DOH included in their Official Report. The bill includes: 

  • A call to remove the “Sunset Clause” that would end the state MMJ program should the federal government change marijuana’s Schedule I status;
  • A change to the definition of “caregiver” so it includes long-term care facilities and an improved background check system; and,
  • A push for dispensaries to provide limited on-site, outdoor pickups, expanded caregiving, remote consultations, and dosages for no more than a 90-day supply. Note that while these recommendations are already in place due to PA’s emergency order, the bill would codify the changes. 

Finally, the last order of business covered at the meeting surrounded two applications submitted  to add, remove, or change serious medical conditions. Such applications are first received, reviewed, and evaluated by the Medical Subcommittee of the Board. The Subcommittee then presents the applications and their findings to the Board who makes a recommendation to accept or reject them. The evaluations completed rely heavily on research studies surrounding the effect and efficacy of marijuana to the condition under consideration. 

In this case, the Subcommittee did not recommend the conditions inclusion in the program. The Board then voted against both conditions, insomnia and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to be included in the program. Evaluations into the conditions resulted in concerns that both insomnia and TBI were too broad of terms and there is minimal research on human subjects (most trials completed have been on animals) that supports the use of marijuana to treat either condition. 

All in all, the November meeting contained a number of important details that demonstrate how pivotal the PA MMJ program has become in the past several months. The financial findings alone demonstrate a great need and desire for medical marijuana, as well as a promise for a bright and booming industry in our state. 

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