Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana law was enacted in April 2016. The law creates a framework for regulating an intrastate industry anchored by up to 25 grower/processor licensees and up to 50 dispensary licensees. The law also sets rules for physician certification of patients with serious medical conditions.  Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat in the second year of his term in 2016, has been a vocal supporter and actor for advancing PA medical marijuana law.

NOTE!: This page has not been updated in more than a year… Revisions are underway. 

PA Health Dept has regulatory authority

The law delegates authority to Pennsylvania Dept of Public Health to make all regulations for the state’s medical marijuana program, facilitating the new intrastate medical cannabis industry as well as the rules for physicians, patients, and other members of the public.

Implementation timeline: According to a PA Dept of Health Medical Marijuana Program FAQ updated on August 12:

 The department is drafting the temporary regulations that are needed to implement the Act. Those temporary regulations will explain the program’s operation, including how applications are to be submitted by growers/processors, dispensaries, patients and caregivers, and physicians, and will be in place for two years from the date they are published. During that time period, the department will be preparing to issue formal regulations.

The department intends to publish the temporary regulations sequentially, addressing the requirements for growers/processors so that those entities can come online and begin to produce products, then detailing requirements for dispensaries and physicians, followed closely by requirements for the registration of caregivers and patients.

Regulating Production and Sale

Grower/processor permits: The law creates a new type of business called a grower/processor, which is authorized to cultivate cannabis plants and manufacture derived medicines. The Dept of Public Health will conduct a competitive application process to grant operating permits to up to 25 grower/processor companies distributed across three regions of the state.

Dispensary permits: Another newly created business, the dispensary, sells medicinal cannabis products derived to registered patients. The Dept of Public Health will hold a competitive application process to distribute up to 50 dispensary permits across three regions of the state. A company that hold a dispensary permit can open up to three retail sales locations.

Product restrictions

Section 303 of PA law specifies that only the following forms of medicinal cannabis products can be sold to registered patients:

  • pill
  • oil
  • topical forms, including gel, creams, or ointments
  • a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nubulization, exclusing dry leaf or plant form until dry leaf or plant forms become acceptable under regulations adopted under Section 1202
  • tincture
  • liquid.

The law further clarifies, “Unless otherwise provided in regulations adopted by the Department under Section 1202, medical marijuana may not be dispensed to a patient or caregiver in dry leaf or plant form.

Section 1202 referenced above concerns “Regulations Based on Recommendations of Advisory Board.”

Serious Medical Conditions

Pennsylvania medical marijuana physician certification
PA doctors certify serious medical conditions

Before a person can become registered as a medical marijuana patient, a physician must certify that the person suffers from a “serious medical condition” or a terminal illness. The law specifies that serious medical conditions are:

  • Cancer
  • Positive Status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractical spasticity
  • Epilepsy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Neuropathies
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Intractable Seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
  • Autism

Terminal illness: A physician can also issue a certification to a patient who has a terminal illness, defined as “a medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course.”

Physician Certification Rules

Training Course: Before gaining the ability to certify a patient’s use of medical marijuana, a physician must apply to become registered with the program and must complete a four-hour training course that is being developed by PA Dept of Health. The training course counts for continuing medical education credit.

Assertions: When certifying a patient with a serious medical condition, a physician attests that the patient is under the physician’s “continuing care for the serious medical condition.” Also, “In the practitioner’s professional opinion and review of past treatments, the practitioner determines the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the use of medical marijuana. (Section 403- Issuance of Certification).

Prescription drug monitoring: Pennsylvania medical marijuana law requires a physician to review the prescription drug monitoring program in order to determine the controlled substance history of the patient. (Section 403(C)- Consultation).

Patient Registration Requirements

A person must be a resident of Pennsylvania to be certified for a serious medical condition.

A minor under the age of 18 can be certified if they have a registered caregiver, which can be a parent, a legal guardian, a person designated by a parent or legal guardian, or in some cases a person appointed by the Department of Health.

Safe Harbor Letter for Minors

In the case of a minor suffering from a serious medical condition where immediate and urgent treatment with cannabinoid medicines may be warranted, a parent or legal guardian can use the Safe Harbor Letter Application. If granted, the Safe Harbor permits a parent or legal guardian to administer medical marijuana to a minor in Pennsylvania, regardless where the medical cannabis was obtained (obviously it’s not yet possible to obtain legal medical cannabis products in Pennsylvania). In order to receive Safe Harbor Protection, the parent or legal guardian must submit to the Health Dept. a written statement from a PA licensed physician addressing the minor’s serious medical condition.

For more information see: