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May 31, 2016

What's the status of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law?

Updates on timeline, implementation and challenges

On April 17, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law, allowing for patients with one of 17 qualifying conditions to access the drug in pill, oil or ointment form. The law took effect after 30 days, and it's now been more than a month since it was signed.

So what's the status of the law, as far as the timeline and challenges of implementation? Here's a roundup of stories about where Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law currently stands:

Wolf: Program to be fully running by 2018, law enforcement should be understanding

Wolf spoke briefly about the law earlier this month during an interview with Radio PA's "Ask the Governor" program. He said, considering all that has to be done — 150 new dispensaries, background checks, training and medical research — 2018 is when the "whole thing" should be up and running.

Wolf also touched on the fact that local prosecutors could still enforce local laws on the drug. He said his administration has asked prosecutors not to do that when it comes to medical use and hopes law enforcement understands (transcript via NewsWorks):

"There are real medical issues that families in Pennsylvania are facing, and they are doing what they're doing in the understanding that this law has been passed," Wolf said. "It is now legal. And it's just a matter of our doing what we need to do to get the system up and running."

You can watch the full segment of Wolf discussing the law below:

Lawyers could face legal challenges

Those trying to break into the new medical marijuana industry could face a conundrum. As the York Daily Record notes, it still remains a crime for business attorneys to discuss contracts with clients who want to supply the drug, as Pennsylvania's Rules of Criminal Procedure bars lawyers from advising on activities known to be illegal — marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

To resolve the issue, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is looking for public feedback. More from the Daily Record:

The court's request for public feedback is a response "to numerous inquiries received regarding advice to clients regarding the marijuana business," according to a media release from the disciplinary board.

York attorney Suzanne Smith said, "Obviously, there is a need for the lawyers' involvement -- it's business and contract issues. Plus, there will be all the new laws associated with legalizing medical marijuana.

"However, ... there are still federal laws that are potentially being violated. I don't think the state can grant 'immunity' from federal charges. But, other states have had legalized marijuana for some time and we have not heard of federal charges being filed."

The proposed rule amendment would require attorneys to advise their medical marijuana clients of "the legal consequences" that remain under federal law.

After getting feedback, the state Supreme Court's disciplinary board will send a recommendation to the justices, who will consider the amendment.

Philly already learning about law

Seminars hosted by private marijuana companies to inform the public about the new law have been held across the state over the past month. US Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research and Development, a company that is trying to develop the legal weed market across the country, is hosting some information sessions in the area in June for those wanting to break into the market, according to Patch.

The seminars — $350 a head — will be held at the following locations:

• Saturday, June 4, at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown at 1201 Market St.

• Sunday, June 5, at the Philadelphia Marriott West at 111 Crawford Ave. in West Conshohocken.

Information on how to register and what the sessions provide can be found here.

Municipalities could try and block dispensaries

Pennsylvania's law differs from other states that have passed similar marijuana measures, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in that it "denies individual communities the leeway to block dispensaries selling the drug, according to interpretations by independent analysts and legislative offices."

That doesn't mean some municipalities might not try, however. Local zoning will still prove key for potential dispensaries and growing operations, and as one Philly lawyer told the newspaper, some localities will likely try and stop weed-related businesses from coming to their town:

“I guarantee: There will be some municipalities in Pennsylvania, somewhere, that try potentially to pass an ordinance saying, ‘We don’t want any marijuana organizations,’” said Justin Moriconi, a regulated-substances attorney in Philadelphia.
He said any attempts at local prohibition likely would be overturned, despite the sustained resistance to medical marijuana in several pockets of the state.

Officials said Pennsylvania's law has benefited from lessons learned from other states that have passed medical marijuana laws, taking into account local fears of potential crime by adding additional mandatory security measures at operations centers. You can read more from the Post-Gazette here.

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