On April 17, 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law SB 3, Pennsylvania’s compassionate medical cannabis legislation. The Senate had first approved the bill on May 12, 2015, and it was subsequently revised and approved by the House on March 14-16, 2016. The Senate made technical changes to the bill and sent it back to the House on April 12, and it received final approval in the House on April 13, 2016.

The law goes into effect on May 17, 2016, and the Department of Health will then have six months to issue temporary regulations.

Below is a summary of The Medical Marijuana Act (SB 3):

Qualified Medical Conditions: Patients can qualify for medical cannabis if they have a terminal illness or if they suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, autism, sickle cell anemia, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin, or if conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.

Certifying Physicians: To qualify for the program, a patient must be under the ongoing care of a physician who issues a certification during an in-person visit. The certification must state that the patient has a qualifying medical condition and that the physician believes he or she could benefit from medical cannabis. Physicians must register, complete a four-hour course, and report to the department if a patient no longer needs access to medical cannabis as a result of improved health or death.

Regulatory Authority: The Department of Health is responsible for implementing the program, including developing rules, processing applications, and issuing patient ID cards and licenses. The law creates an advisory board established to make recommendations to the department. The board will be comprised of 15 members, including three law enforcement members, several health or medical experts, and at least one patient advocate. Two years after the law takes effect (May 2018), the board will issue a report including recommendations regarding access to dry leaf or plant cannabis. The health department will then accept or reject its recommendations and will have 18 months to promulgate rules based on the board’s report.

Usage Limitations: The only types of medical cannabis allowed initially are pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquid, and non-whole plant forms for administration through vaporization. Dispensaries cannot sell edibles, but medical cannabis products could be mixed into food or drinks to facilitate ingestion by a patient in a facility or residence. Vaporization is allowed, and smoking is prohibited. Following the issuance of the board’s report, the Department of Health could promulgate a rule that would allow patient access to dry leaf cannabis.

Health Insurance: Government medical assistance programs and private health insurers are not required to reimburse any costs involved with the use of medical cannabis or any costs associated with an employer having to make accommodations for the use of medical cannabis in the workplace.

Out-of-State Patients: Patients registered for medical cannabis in another state are not allowed access to medical cannabis in Pennsylvania.

Growers and Processors: The department will issue 25 combined grower and processor permits. They are required to use seed-to-sale tracking, thorough record keeping and retention, surveillance systems, and additional security measures.

Dispensaries: The board may issue permits to no more than 50 dispensaries, which can each have three locations, allowing for up to 150 total dispensaries.

Legal Protections: A registered patient or caregiver is protected from arrest, prosecution, and discrimination in child custody. Employers do not have to accommodate employees’ on-site use. Legal protections do not take effect until the patient has been issued a medical cannabis registration card. The legislation does not include a timeline for issuance of registration cards.

Taxes and Fees: Applicants will pay $5,000 per dispensary application and $10,000 for grower/processor applications. Medical cannabis business licensees will pay registration fees of $30,000 for easy dispensary location and $200,000 for grower/processors. The grower/processor will pay a 5% tax on the sale of medical cannabis to a dispensary. Patients are initially charged $50 for an identification card, which can be waived for financial hardship. All fees may be modified by the advisory board.

Sunset Provision: Portions of the law related to dispensaries will expire three years after the federal government completes rescheduling of marijuana.