The Pennsylvania House of Representatives convenes on March 14, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. One of the items on the House Calendar is Senate Bill No. 3 (“SB3”). SB3 is a bipartisan bill providing for the medical use of cannabis in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. SB3 was introduced as a bi-partisan bill in the Pennsylvania Senate. On May 12, 2015, Pennsylvania’s Senate passed SB3 by 40-7 vote with 2 Senators not voting (n/v). SB3 was then referred to House Health Committee for consideration where it was then re-referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration. On November 18, 2015, the House Rules Committee voted 25-8 to report the bill as committed to the full House for consideration. On January 25, 2016, the House removed SB3 from consideration. House Majority Leader David Reed, R-Indiana, has chosen to bring SB3 up for a vote when the members of the house return to Harrisburg the week of March 14. SB3 has the support of both conservatives and liberals in the General Assembly. Additionally, Governor Tom Wolf has already stated that he would sign a medical marijuana bill. While it is not automatic that Pennsylvania will have a state medical marijuana program as set forth in SB3, it is the closest the Pennsylvania General Assembly has come to passing a medical marijuana law.
From a patient perspective, SB3 limits medical marijuana use to individuals who have a specified “Qualified Medical Condition”. Qualified Medical Conditions include: 1) Cancer; 2) Epilepsy and seizures; 3) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; 4) Cachexia/wasting syndrome; 5) Parkinson’s disease; 6) Traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome; 7) Multiple sclerosis; 8) Spinocerebellara Ataxia (SCA); 9) Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; 10) Severe fibromyalgia; 11) HIV/AIDS; 12) Glaucoma; 13) Chronic or Intractable pain; 14) Chrons disease; and 15) Diabetes.
Patients can only obtain medical marijuana from state licensed “Medical Cannabis Dispensers” as home cultivation is not allowed. In comparison, 15 of the 23 States which have medical marijuana programs allow some sort of home cultivation. SB3 will also require patients to register with the department of health and obtain a medical access card. SB3 imposes a $100.00 application fee for a two year medical access card and $50.00 annual renewal fee. Additionally, SB3 restricts the form in which medical marijuana may be dispensed to oils, ointments, tinctures, liquids, gels, pills and similar substances. Smoking is not a method of dispensing allowed under SB3, typically the most economical and easiest method of intake for patients.
From the perspective of individuals seeking to grow, process or dispense medical marijuana, SB3 establishes a state licensing procedure. To obtain a license to be a “Medical Cannabis Grower” there is an initially licensee fee of $50,000.00 and an initial annual renewal fee of $5,000.00 for each year immediately following the year the license is issued. SB3 limits the amount of Medical Cannabis Grower licenses to 65 statewide. Both Medical Cannabis Processors and Medical Cannabis Dispensers must also pay an initially license fee of $50,000.00 and an initial annual renewal fee of $5,000.00 for each year immediately following the year the license was issued. Under SB3, Medical Cannabis Processor licenses are limited to 65 and Medical Cannabis Dispenser licenses are limited to 130. Employees will also be required to obtain an Occupational Permit to work at any licensed facilities.
The cost may not seem excessive but considering that marijuana remains classified as a schedule 1 drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, there is significant risk in paying $50,000 to obtain a license for a business venture that is still considered illegal under Federal Law. For that same reason, banks have generally been very reluctant to loan money to start a medical marijuana business. Any start up money will likely be from private investment limiting the number of individuals or groups who can afford the risk. The license fee is just the beginning as there will be many costs for any medical marijuana facility including: the building or fitting out of locations for growing, processing or dispensing; the implementing and maintaining of State protocols; the installment of State required theft security systems; and the screening, hiring and training of employees.
Additionally, the market is limited and tightly regulated under SB3. Medical marijuana may only be sold to registered patients with valid Medical Access Cards. Medical Cannabis Growers may only supply to Medical Cannabis Processors who in turn supply to Medical Cannabis Dispensers under SB3.
While it is inevitable that Pennsylvania will pass some sort of medical marijuana law, it does not mean that medical marijuana will be easy or cheap to grow or buy. The significant cost associated with SB3 will make it very difficult for the average mom and pop small business to start a medical marijuana business. Additionally, the cost of the medical marijuana is likely to be very high and I doubt it will be covered by medical insurance given it is still illegal under Federal Law. Patients may chose to take their chances and pay the cheaper costs associated with buying marijuana on the streets. However, SB3 represents a start and there will be some opportunities for some eager businessman to get in on the ground floor.