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July 19, 2016

Pennsylvania issues progress report on Medical Marijuana Program

State convening physician work groups to identify key implementation issues

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Tuesday provided a progress report on statewide efforts to implement the Medical Marijuana Program signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in April.

"The department is being very thoughtful and thorough in our approach to developing and implementing a medically-focused program that will benefit patients with serious medical conditions," said Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy.

Since the legislation hit the books, the state has undertaken a public survey to aid in the development of temporary regulations for growers/processors and dispensaries/labs. Eventually, the state will authorize up to 25 marijuana growers and processors while allowing as many as 50 dispensaries each to operate three locations in Pennsylvania.

The state has also completed Safe Harbor temporary guidelines and the Safe Harbor Letter application process to regulate how parents, guardians, caregivers and spouses obtain and administer medical marijuana to minors who have a physician-documented serious medical condition.

Once up and running, patients with one of 17 qualifying conditions — including cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, seizures and autism — will be able to access the drug in pill, oil or ointment form.

As an interim step, the Safe Harbor application now allows patients and caregivers to obtain medical marijuana from outside the state.

Murphy stressed the need for physician participation in the upcoming phases of the program's implementation. Physicians statewide will be enrolled in a four-hour course detailing the latest scientific research on medical marijuana. Those who wish to participate in the program will then have to submit an application to become registered to prescribe the drug.

"We have started working closely with physician groups to disseminate important information, and have formed a physician workgroup to ensure continued communication and feedback on the program and its implementation," Murphy said. "Physicians and their medical expertise are crucial to the success of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, and we will continue to engage them throughout the process to ensure their medical expertise is heard on behalf of patients."

The Temple University Health Systems, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals and Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will be among 13 participants at the first Medical Marijuana Physician Work Group in the coming weeks. That will be followed by a feedback survey for the development of temporary regulations pertaining to physicians.

By the end of August, the Health Department expects to complete and publish temporary regulations for growers and processors. Additional temporary regulations for dispensaries, physicians, patients and caregivers will follow and remain in effect for two years from the date they are published.

The program is on track to be fully operational by early 2018. Those who have questions about the program can inquire at RA-DHMedMarijuana@pa.gov.