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Soapbox

A Response to Governor Wolf’s Call for the Legalization of Recreational Cannabis

By Chris Visco
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As a medical cannabis professional, I, like most industry leaders, have been left out of the conversation around the Governor’s call to legalize recreational cannabis. Much like flying a plane without the advice of the pilot, those of us who are rooted in this space should be given a seat in the cockpit if we’re headed in this direction.

While Governor Wolf has called for legalization, which is absolutely necessary, those who understand where legislation has gone wrong and what works well – including business owners and most importantly, patients – have been largely left out of the conversation.

I meet regularly with legislators and unlike many, I speak and listen to both sides. I applaud the call for legalization by Governor Wolf, however, I question his true intentions. Is this political posturing to make Republicans look out of touch? Any political strategist would say that if you actually want something done, you must work with the opposition. Like many issues today, change can only be created once we come together. This is no different.

Few people understand that cannabis was used as medicine for thousands of years and legal in the U.S. until 1969. In 1971, Nixon told us that cannabis was “bad” and drug abuse was public enemy number one, so Americans listened. Nixon then goes on to break American law, be impeached, resigns, and yet, Americans continue to follow his lead, vilifying cannabis users, 46 years later. As a society, we are taught to conform to what we are told by elected officials and community leaders as truth.

PA Governor Tom Wolf
Image: Flickr

Act 16 legalized cannabis – a term illegal to use by someone like me, who has been mandated by The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to use ONLY the racist term “marijuana” – but in a way that shames users. The system fails our patients at every turn leaving business owners hostage to an unmanageable “seed to sale” platform, leaving many patients without access to their medicine. Low income patients have been left out of our program by high prices and have not received any of the subsidies they were promised, even though the program has produced hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pennsylvania law strictly prohibits anyone charged with the use of cannabis to work in the industry. You cannot own a cannabis business or work for a cannabis company if you have been arrested for possessing a $10 joint. Yet, my customers skip to their cars with hundreds of dollars of weed in their bags and go about their day. Meanwhile, a 19-year-old black kid’s life just ended after he was pulled over, driving while black and the officer finds a joint. He can never receive financial aid for college or get a job because he has “a record.” The reality is, the black teen’s life will most definitely come to an end because of a joint while others can smoke walking down Broad Street and no one blinks.

Pennsylvanians want legal cannabis. It has a consistent history of reducing opioid deaths, state by state, by 25%. How many lives would be saved if we allowed those who cannot afford legal cannabis but fear prosecution for illegal use, to grow their own?

I have no judgement against those who have been conditioned to believe cannabis is an “illicit drug” because this is how we’ve been programmed. Cannabis has healed but has killed no one. We must educate our legislators before we vilify them. There are more Republicans quietly for legalization than against, but they need information, not shaming.

Legalization of cannabis is necessary to preserve our health and welfare, because we’ve become a society addicted to chemically derived pharmaceutical drugs designed to cause dependence. Cannabis is not physically addicting. It can prevent and eliminate seizures, shrink and even kill cancer tumors, settle the nervous system from diseases like Parkinson’s and MS and help those with anxiety, depression and PTSD. Legalize cannabis and clean up our homelessness, allow people of color to profit from an industry which has capitalized on them, allow low income people and all people to grow their own medicine, and reduce the violence in our streets caused by prohibition.

Pennsylvania needs a legalization law that includes real, hard-working Americans. I am one of the few, born and bred small business cannabis owners in Pennsylvania and I want opportunity for my neighbors and fellow Pennsylvanians in this space. We need legalization to save our communities, but we need two separate application processes – one that is directed toward those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs which should be crafted to protect applicants who cannot afford thousands of dollars of application fees and the uncertainty of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars via legislative delays. The system is broken. There must be two points of entry.

Pennsylvania Republicans will legalize cannabis. Pennsylvania Democrats will not. Democrats hold no power or authority in our Republican controlled state, and they have shown no attempt to educate. Cannabis legalization is necessary to save the state, but money should not be the reason. Pennsylvanians deserve the education to understand what they do not understand.

Instead, lets legalize and allow 50% of the licenses to be awarded to social equity applicants (those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs) with a bill that is written in the best interest of the social equity applicant and the consumer. The other 50% of the applications should be open to current license holders (who should be grandfathered in with a high price license acceptance fee) and small business owners from Pennsylvania. (It is federally illegal to require residency requirements).

We must not eliminate the Multi State Operators (MSOs) because a free market depends on expertise and stability – and whether anyone wants to hear it or not, being disadvantaged is not enough to be a successful businessperson. We need a balance, but more importantly, as with our nation in crisis, we need to come together.

We CAN 

  • Provide affordable, non-addictive medicine to patients.
  • Allow people to grow their own cannabis.
  • Create BILLIONS in tax revenue nationally by taxing adult use cannabis.
  • Demand social equity reform where anyone can profit from the plant.
  • Free Americans from prisons and parole and expunge records.

All of this is a cry for peace. As a wise person once said, “Drunk men in a bar start a fight, high men start a band.”  Spread peace not hate. Thousands die from excessive alcohol consumption every year, but legalization of cannabis does not increase usage. No one has ever died from cannabis. Tell me again why we shouldn’t legalize? Those who believe we should not might as well push for alcohol prohibition again – it has no medicinal properties and kills.

Hopes and dreams will not help our humanitarian crisis – but action and education just might…

The Year in Cannabis (So Far)

By Joshua Weiss
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At the outset of 2020, the cannabis industry appeared poised for a series of incremental changes: a number of states were considering decriminalization and legalization measures, and support was growing for federal legislation allowing cannabis businesses access to banks and financial services. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which disrupted state legislative sessions (and legislative priorities), obstructed signature gathering for ballot initiatives, and reshuffled federal priorities. However, despite all of these changes, the cannabis industry has seen significant developments across the country. Beyond of course the many challenges and losses brought by the pandemic and its aftermath, in some ways, it may prove a boon for the industry.

Legalization and Decriminalization

Currently around a dozen states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, while just under two dozen states allow use of medicinal cannabis. With support for legalization measures steadily growing in most states, a number of major states seemed poised to pass legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, including large potential markets in the Northeast such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. And in many other states, advocacy groups were well underway gathering signatures to qualify legalization measures for the November 2020 ballot. When the pandemic hit, however, state legislatures largely suspended their normal operations, and signature gatherers were stymied by stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements.

Despite these major obstacles, legalization and decriminalization legislation has continued to move forward in a number of states, and still others will have legalization referenda on the ballot for November’s election. Perhaps more important than these initiatives themselves are the diverse states that are moving toward loosening of restrictions around cannabis: rather than being limited to a handful of especially liberal states, cannabis advocates are seeing tangible progress is every geographic area, among states whose political leanings span the spectrum.

Whether through the legislature or directly by the ballot, it seems likely some states will legalize adult use this year

While the Northeast corridor had planned to undertake legalization efforts in a coordinated fashion this year, those results were put on hold given the seriousness of initial COVID-19 outbreaks in the greater New York area. However, the New Jersey General Assembly nevertheless passed decriminalization legislation, though the matter has not yet cleared the New Jersey Senate, and the appetite for full-scale legalization remains strong there, with a ballot initiative going directly to voters in advance of the New Jersey Legislature considering the issue. The Commonwealth of Virginia enacted decriminalization legislation also, and a legislative caucus in Virginia has pledged to introduce recreational legalization legislation this summer when Virginia convenes a special legislative session. Voters in Mississippi and South Dakota will be able to vote on ballot initiatives to legalize recreational cannabis, and similar ballot initiatives are underway or likely in Arizona and Nebraska. Advocates in Arkansas and Oklahoma had also hoped to bring initiatives to the ballot, but have encountered practical and legal obstacles to gathering the required signatures in time for this year’s election.

These myriad initiatives reflect a strong shift toward legalization of recreational cannabis across the country, and the ability to continue gathering signatures and momentum despite stay-at-home orders and social distancing underscores the growing popularity of the movement. Whether through the legislature or directly by the ballot, it seems all but certain that the number of states permitting recreational cannabis will grow significantly this year.

COVID-19 Business Closures

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the early months of 2020, most states instituted various forms of stay-at-home orders that required the closure of nonessential businesses. While these policies had—and continue to have—serious impacts on businesses of every type, cannabis companies have largely seen strong economic growth notwithstanding.

One of the most important developments in this space came in the context of state and local governments designating certain businesses as “essential” for purposes of business closure orders. In nearly every state to consider the issue—Massachusetts being the main outlier—state and local governments recognized cannabis companies as essential, which allowed them to operate during the shutdown.

The “essential” designation largely carried between both recreational and medicinal cannabis jurisdictions. And this matters because of what it means for the industry. State and local governments clearly realize the important medicinal role that cannabis plays for patients dependent on it for treatment, and the overlapping customer bases of mixed dispensaries further contributed to keeping cannabis companies open during the pandemic. Even in states where certain dispensaries operate solely in a recreational capacity, those jurisdictions recognized the importance of allowing access to a safe recreational substance, like alcohol, during prolonged stay-at-home orders.

Similarly, likely as a result of those same stay-at-home orders, cannabis companies largely saw significant increases in sales revenue. More customers visited retail establishments, and those customers often purchased more product per visit. This resulted in better-than-expected sales revenue for cannabis companies, and also produced increased tax revenues for state and local governments.

The cannabis industry saw more than just increased sales, however. In the process of issuing emergency rules for the cannabis industry during quarantine, a number of state and local jurisdictions either began to allow cannabis deliveries or expanded its availability, a shift in policy that may stick around well after the pandemic subsides.

One final impact of the pandemic may also help push legalization initiatives forward in the coming years: decreased tax revenue and major budget gaps. Due both to a decrease in economic activity like shopping and dining, as well as the unexpected health care costs associated with responding to the COVID-19 crisis, state and local budgets are expected to see significant shortcomings for years to come. In response, state and local governments are starting to see cannabis as a significant and viable source of tax revenue. For example, various cities in California that had previously been reluctant to permit recreational cannabis are beginning to welcome cannabis companies in hopes of making up for lost tax revenue. Similarly, in New Mexico, where legalization has remained a heated topic of discussion, Gov. Lujan Grisham has explicitly expressed her regret that the state failed to legalize cannabis, recognizing that tax revenues from the industry could have reached upwards of $100 million. Other state and local governments are coming to similar realizations, which should help propel expanded access to legal cannabis in coming years.

Federal Changes

Major changes in the cannabis industry in 2020 have not been limited to the states. In the midst of changes and crises across the country, the federal government has been making meaningful progress in two major respects, COVID-19 notwithstanding.

SAFE Banking Act language included in COVID-19 relief package legislation

First, cannabis companies are edging closer to having full access to banks, bank accounts and related financial services. The SAFE Banking Act, championed by Rep. Perlmutter, has made it through the House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. However, as Congress continues to toil away at future COVID-19 relief legislation, political signals from Washington, D.C., suggest there is a reasonable likelihood that the protections of the SAFE Banking Act will be included, in some form, in the next round of major COVID-19 legislation out of Congress. The enactment of these banking provisions will provide substantial relief to cannabis companies who have largely been excluded from opening bank accounts and utilizing the services major banks provide. Additionally, allowing access to banks and their services should further facilitate the rapid growth in the cannabis economy we are witnessing elsewhere, and this movement could further legitimize the industry as part of a broader push for federal legalization.

Second, after a four-year delay, the DEA has finally proposed draft rules to expand the DEA’s limited cannabis research program. For decades, all cannabis research to date has relied on limited supplies of cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi. Now the DEA is finally following through on its promise to further develop, refine and expand its research program by allowing additional suppliers and market participants to play a role in cannabis research. While the rules proposed are not without detractors and critiques—and the rules themselves have not been finalized—this marks an important step forward to a better understanding of the effects of THC on consumers, not only because more research is needed to understand a substance consumed by millions annually, but also because the limited supply of cannabis on which researchers currently rely has been shown to differ substantially in appearance, consistency and chemical composition from cannabis that is commercially available in states across the country. With an expanded research regime comes the hope that scientists will be able to develop new and innovative cannabis-derived medications, while also furthering our understanding of how THC affects health and the body.

At every level of government, the year in cannabis so far has proven to be far more eventful than many predicted. And the COVID-19 crisis has not slowed progress. There appears to be continued momentum to further mature how cannabis is treated at every level of government, which signals that significant changes are on the horizon. Industry observers will be closely focused on how the rest of the year proceeds, especially with a presidential election on the horizon.


Editor’s Note: This article was revised to clarify that New Jersey has not yet decriminalized marijuana. A decriminalization bill passed the New Jersey General Assembly, but the New Jersey Senate has not acted as of this writing.

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Steep Hill Expands To New Jersey

By Aaron G. Biros
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steep-hill-labs-logo

steep-hill-labs-logoAccording to a press release published today, Steep Hill has signed a licensing agreement with Green Analytics East to open a new laboratory, Steep Hill New Jersey. “We are pleased to announce a licensee partnership with Green Analytics East to bring Steep Hill to New Jersey,” says Jeffrey Monat, chairman of the Steep Hill board of directors. “Since 2008, Steep Hill has developed and now employs cutting edge cannabis testing practices, providing analysis to ensure safe medicine and products. With Green Analytics East as our trusted partner, New Jersey patients and consumers can be confident that all Steep Hill-tested products will fully comply with public safety and regulatory standards.”

They haven’t obtained the local permits yet, but the press release states they expect to be open for business in the third quarter of 2019. Steep Hill began their cannabis laboratory testing business in California. Since their start in 2008, the company has grown rapidly, developing programs for regulatory compliance testing in medical and recreational cannabis markets. They have also ventured into research and development testing, licensing, genetics and remote testing.

The company has a history of expanding into new markets via licensing partnerships, including states such as Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, OregonHawaii, among others. As recently as May of last year, Steep Hill announced they will expand their international footprint as well, including opening locations in countries like Mexico, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, all through their Canadian branch.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

The news of Steep Hill moving into the New Jersey market comes at a time when Governor Phil Murphy and lawmakers in the state are in the midst of planning adult use legalization. According to Shannon Hoffman, director of operations of Steep Hill New Jersey, they are hoping lawmakers reach a decision soon. “We are excited to bring our focus of service, accuracy, and scientific knowledge and expertise to the New Jersey market,” says Hoffman. “We look forward to serving the licensed producers, the patient community, and hopefully soon, the adult use consumer.”

East Coast Market Update

By Lindsay Engle
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There are going to be some states that are less progressive in the pro-cannabis movement, the same way there were states that were slow to move past alcohol prohibition. This is normal for any country moving towards change, better economic standing and safer healthcare.

There are only four states that completely ban recreational and medical cannabis altogether, and those states are Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Although, there is no doubt that more and more states are moving towards a pro-recreational and medical cannabis stance. There are some states in the Northeast that are making strides to legalize cannabis.

Most of the states in the Northeast already have some form of medical cannabis law in the books already, but some are moving towards recreational legalization surprisingly quickly. Massachusetts already has legalized recreational cannabis and is setting up their regulatory framework currently while Vermont, New Jersey and New York, all of which already have medical laws, appear to be just steps away from legalizing it recreationally.

Northeast States Moving Towards Legalization

With Canada’s recent recreational legalization, a number of states just south of the border appear to be eyeing the issue for themselves. While some of these states have somewhat strict regulations in place, they look like promising emerging market opportunities.

New Jersey

New Jersey is closer than ever to legalizing recreational cannabis. Governor Phil Murphy built his campaign on the pledge to end cannabis prohibition. Murphy says having recreational cannabis legalized this year is his goal.

Murphy says that he wants legal recreational cannabis to be available because he believes it is a way to improve social justice in New Jersey and to bring the state new tax revenue. The biggest issue is what the legislation will look like and how it can be tied to expanding the states medicinal cannabis program.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

Their current medical program, while still small in market size, appears to be gaining steam and growing in terms of patients getting access. Six months ago, The New Jersey Department of Health added a number of qualifying conditions patients can get a cannabis prescription for. The program still has its limits, like a 10% THC potency cap, small selection of types of products and other various restrictions.

New York

It was just last year when Governor Andrew Cuomo said cannabis was a “gateway drug” and he was opposed to legalization. After conducting a study on cannabis legalization, the result was a July Health Department report that determined the positive effects of legalization outweighs the potential negative impacts.

The debate between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial race has highlighted their views of cannabis as well as other important issues; it’s important that New Yorkers vote in the primary election to have the best opportunity for the future.

If New York legalizes recreational cannabis, it could open up a huge new market. Medical cannabis users will likely see a price drop in their medication. Similar kinds of restrictions that plague the New Jersey market are also affecting medical patients in New York. Currently, smoking and edibles are both prohibited even for patients. Back in 2017, the state added chronic pain to its list of qualifying conditions, undoubtedly increasing the number of patients.

Companies with large amounts of capital are planting their flags in New York, like MedMen’s dispensary in Manhattan, even if the medical market might still be in its infancy.

MassachusettsOver the next six months, this market will be one to watch closely

Recreational cannabis became legalin the last couple months for Massachusetts, while the state legalized medical cannabis some time ago. Their medical program is relatively advanced compared to New York or New Jersey. Online registration, a large number of qualifying conditions, and a less restrictive business environment seemed to encourage a much larger number of patients and businesses supporting them.

Regulators in Massachusetts are currently consideringthe option of allowing delivery operations for the recreational market. The roll out for the recreational industry might seem somewhat slow, but regulators are tackling a wide range of issues and making considerable progress towards the highly anticipated recreational market opening. Just last week, regulators issued licenses to two cannabis-testing laboratories, and, according to the Boston Globe, the debut could be just weeks away.

While the industry and regulators get ready for the recreational debut, a recent crackdown on pesticide usehighlighted some of the growing pains that come with it. Over the next six months, this market will be one to watch closely as dispensaries begin selling recreational cannabis and the industry develops.

Vermont

The recent Canadian legalization of recreational cannabis will no doubt put pressure on states sharing a border with them to consider adjusting their laws.

Legalizing recreational cannabis will likely increase tourism to Vermont, the way other states saw an influx in tourism when they legalized. Unfortunately, Vermont has only decriminalized recreational cannabis. You can possess, grow and consume cannabis, but you can’t buy or sell it, which obviously restricts the ability of any business to enter the market.

Vermont Statehouse, Montpellier, VT
Image: Tony Fischer, Flickr

However, their legal medical program is relatively laissez-faire compared to other states in the region. They allow for cultivation at home or through a caregiver and there are a number of small businesses working under the legal medical program.

Maryland

Recreational cannabis isn’t legal in Maryland yet, but medical cannabis has been legal since 2014. It’s illegal for patients and caregivers to grow their own. Attempts have been made to make recreational cannabis in 2016, but the bill didn’t move forward.

Maryland’s industry was off to a rocky start, when the application process for businesses wanting to enter the market slowed to a crawl. This month, the state just approved four new medical dispensaries and one new processor for the market. The latest round of approvals brings the total to 69 dispensaries serving patients, while back in 2016, the state pre-approved 102 dispensaries originally.

Delaware Expect to see another attempt at legalizing via the legislature in early 2019.

Delaware is looking at the possibility of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age. Even though medical cannabis is legal, recreational use isn’t. Back in June, lawmakers in the state were close to recreational legalization but fell short of the mark by four votes. Expect to see another attempt at legalizing via the legislature in early 2019.

The Delaware Department of Health will continue to accept applications for medical cannabis cards, which is required for patients seeking to obtain their medicine from a compassion center. Patients are not allowed to grow their own cannabis. The state’s program has been operational for quite a while, and a small number of companies have established footprints in the state, like the Israeli brand Tikun Olam.

Pennsylvania

In 2016, Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis. In contrast to some of the other states discussed earlier, PA is off to a more streamlined start. The second phase of their medical program allowed for more businesses to enter the market, a wider range of qualifying conditions and a larger number of patients registering. The industry is maturing here fast and could make for an exciting opportunity with recreational legalization potentially on the horizon.

A state lawmaker recently introduced legislation to legalize recreational cannabis. The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess cannabis products such as edibles and up to six cannabis plants, but not more than three mature plants that are flowering.

The bill would call for the immediate release of people jailed for cannabis-related crimes. This would also allow anyone with a criminal history related to cannabis to have that expunged.

If the bill passes, the tax imposed is estimated to generate $500 million a year.

CannaVation logo

Jefferson University Cannabis Innovation Competition Accepting Submissions

By Aaron G. Biros
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CannaVation logo

Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp announced recently that it is co-sponsoring the third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition.

Jefferson Innovation’s 2018 JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is currently accepting submissions of innovative business models for a chance to compete on October 3, where finalists will each present their business ideas in a 10-minute pitch. Winning submissions could get one free provisional or utility patent application and business and clinical consulting services. The competition will be accepting submissions through August 20, 2018.

Finalists will compete for a $10,000 grand prize, legal support and business consultation services.  According to the announcement, in addition to the grand prize winner, up to two other teams could win $5,000 in financial support, one free provisional or utility patent application and consulting services as well.

to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center
Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center

According to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center, the competition is designed to have a national focus, not just on the Pennsylvania cannabis industry. “We are excited to shine a spotlight on Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson University specifically, as a hub for research in medical cannabis, but like the competition, the Lambert Center has a national and even international focus,” says McKinley. She says this is also the first year that the JAZ tank is exclusively focused on cannabis.

Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Rose Ritts, notes “the competition is about creating a platform for emerging concepts to get a toe-hold on the path to potential commercialization. Anything that will improve patient access or outcomes …or improve the industrial hemp market in the U.S. is definitely of interest,” says Ritts. “We welcome companies to jump into the Challenge, and we also welcome investors or anyone thinking about getting into this space to be in the audience for our event on October 3.”

Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer
Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer

The challenge is an annual healthcare startup competition, where new businesses with particularly innovative ideas and technology solutions for the legal cannabis space submit their business models to a panel of judges for review. “This event will bring together the most inventive minds to pitch their solutions to stakeholder problems in the still-emerging medical and medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp industries,” reads the announcement. The Lambert Center is seeking applicants in a wide variety of business areas, including patient access, product design, plant science, information management, horticultural technology, sustainability, transportation, security, workforce training, community outreach, banking and public education.

Lambert Center Director Charles Pollack, MD sees the massive growth potential of the legal cannabis industry. “At our Center we are dedicated to identifying new approaches to developing cannabinoid-based therapies that help patients with various debilitating symptoms and diseases,” says Pollack. “Our JAZ Tank Challenge may identify the next great idea in medicinal cannabis.”

CannaVation logoThrough the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, Jefferson is the first major university in the US to provide a comprehensive academic resource for the medicinal, medical and industrial applications and business of cannabis and hemp. The Lambert Center, the first of its kind in academia, provides “expert-developed, unbiased information to clinicians and patients about medical cannabis and cannabinoid-based therapies,” according to their website. They want to “support the development of entrepreneurial and socially responsible business and clinical approaches within the emerging medical cannabis industry and explore and develop new ways to use hemp in medical, industrial, and consumer products,” reads the website.

McKinley mentions they are looking for creative approaches to solving problems in the medical cannabis and industrial hemp industry. “These could be anything from new products or supply chain innovations to patient support tools to energy management systems that lower the environmental impact of grow facilities,” says McKinley. “We are hoping to see companies that have already launched, or are ready to very quickly.” The third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is accepting submissions through August 20. Click here for more information.

Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Program Blossoms

By Aaron G. Biros
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Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program may be young, but the industry in that state is off to a burgeoning start. Back in 2016, the state legalized medical cannabis. In 2017, the PA Department of Health began accepting applications for licenses and announced the first 12 winning applications. On February 15th, 2018, medical cannabis became available for more than 17,000 patients that registered in the program.

In March of this year, Governor Tom Wolf announced two more dispensaries were approved to operate as well as another grower/processor licensee. At that time, the press release indicated more than 21,000 patients have registered to participate in the medical cannabis program.

Then in April, Governor Wolf announced Phase Two of their medical cannabis program, allowing the industry to grow even more. That allowed for 13 new grower/processor permits and 23 new primary dispensary permits, according to a press release, which moved the total up to 25 grower/processors licensees and 50 dispensary licensees.

Just weeks later after that announcement, the PA Department of Health adjusted their program to allow patients access to whole plant, dried flower and opened up more qualifying conditions. The qualifying conditions added to the list now include cancer remission therapy as well as opioid-addiction therapy, which are two very notable additions. According to an April 6threport, 28,508 patients and 2495 caregivers registered with the program.

On May 15th, Governor Wolf approved eight universities to participate in a groundbreaking program, allowing Pennsylvania to take the first steps towards clinical research for medical cannabis. This research program would be the first of its kind in the country, allowing research institutions to explore the drug. The excitement was put on hold, however, when a Pennsylvania judge halted the program with an injunction. A handful of growers and dispensary owners in PA filed suit to stop the program on grounds that it violated the original intent of the law. State Representative Kathy Watson from Bucks County, the author of the research program, called the suit “pathetic because it’s all about the money.” We’ll follow closely with any new developments as they come.

Steve Schain, Esq. practicing at the Hoban law Group

Steven Schain, Esq., senior attorney at Hoban Law Group, a global cannabis law firm, represents multiple cannabis-related businesses in Pennsylvania. He says the program’s roll out has been fast with solid growth. “Within two years of the legislation’s enactment, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has exceeded expectations with controlled, sustainable and quality growth,” says Schain. “The Pennsylvania Department of Health established ambitious goals, which they met timely and created a statewide program servicing over 10,000 patients in record time. Looming ahead is New Jersey’s adult use program, the anticipated robustness of which could undermine vigorous sales in southeastern Pennsylvania’s marijuana-related businesses.”

On May 30th, Philadelphia welcomed their first medical cannabis dispensary, with a location opening up their doors to patients in Fishtown. Now reports are coming in that say more than 37,000 patients have registered to date, with over 16,000 who have received their ID cards and medical cannabis at a dispensary.

Even though the research program might be on hold for now, Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program is growing at a fast pace. The market there has blossomed in just a few short months to a whopping 37,000-registered patients, according to a press release form Governor Wolf’s office. Some say an additional 200,000 patients could qualify. With the second phase in sight, it seems Pennsylvania is on track to become a hotbed for business and research, developing into a massive medical cannabis marketplace soon. Stay tuned for more updates.

PA flag

Pennsylvania Adjusts Medical Cannabis Program

By Aaron G. Biros
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PA flag

On Monday, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced plans to allow patients access to whole plant, dried flower, as well as more qualifying conditions. The move reverses the previous rule permitting dispensaries to sell only processed forms of cannabis, which some say limited access and kept costs high for patients.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the Department of Health approved changes to the program at a hearing on Monday, which were recommended by the Advisory Board last week. While smoking remains theoretically prohibited, patients can now access the flower for vaporization.

The medical cannabis program in Pennsylvania has only been functional for a few months now; patients began getting access to the drug back in February of 2018. In a press release, MPP says only a small number of cultivators and dispensaries are currently operating. This fact, coupled with the need to purchase processed forms of cannabis, has created product shortages and costly medicine for patients.

It is expected that this move could help alleviate some of those problems in the state’s new program. “Allowing cannabis in its natural, flower form and expanding the list of qualifying conditions will have a huge positive impact on seriously ill Pennsylvanians,” says Becky Dansky, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, who helped lead the legalization effort in Pennsylvania’s legislature. “By being able to provide medical marijuana in plant form, producers will be able to get medicine into the hands of patients much more quickly and for much lower cost to patients,” says Dansky. “This is vitally important for patient access right now while the program is still getting off the ground and production is not yet at full capacity. We hope these rules are promulgated as quickly as possible so even more patients will be able to find relief.”

The qualifying conditions added to the list for patients seeking medical cannabis is set to include cancer remission therapy as well as opioid-addiction therapy, which are two very notable additions. With more qualifying conditions and a potentially cheaper form of medicine, these changes could improve the program’s efficacy in treating patients.

A2LA Accredits First Cannabis Lab in PA

By Aaron G. Biros
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According to a press release sent out this morning, the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) accredited their first Pennsylvania cannabis-testing laboratory. Located in Harrisburg, PA, Keystone State Testing finalized their accreditation for ISO/IEC 17025 on February 21, 2018.

KeystoneStateTestinglogoA2LA also accredited the laboratory to two cannabis-testing-specific programs, ISO/IEC 17025 – General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories and A2LA R243 – Specific Requirements – Cannabis Testing Laboratory Accreditation Program. The R243 program is a collaboration with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) that takes some recommendation for regulators from the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA).

KellyGreenland
Dr. Kelly Greenland, owner and operator of Keystone State Testing

Keystone State Testing is now able to perform all of the tests for cannabis products under the state of Pennsylvania’s regulations. According to Dr. Kelly Greenland, owner and operator of Keystone State Testing, getting accredited is about safeguarding patient safety. “Keystone State Testing is proud to be the first Pennsylvania laboratory to earn A2LA ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation as well as ASA’s Patient Focused Certification,” says Dr. Greenland. “We regard these accreditations and certifications as the first steps in ensuring patient safety and will continue to do everything within our power to ensure medical marijuana patient safety.”

A2LA General Manager Adam Gouker says he wants to see more accreditations include the ASA requirements in R243. “A2LA is pleased to see the growing adoption of the combined assessment to include the ASA requirements,” says Gouker. “Our staff has worked tirelessly in conjunction with ASA staff to create this combined program and offer something that no other accreditation body in the world offers. We congratulate Keystone State Testing Labs on leading the charge in the state of Pennsylvania and laying the groundwork for future laboratories to follow.”

PA Approves First Two Cannabis Labs

By Aaron G. Biros
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According to a PennLive article, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health approved the first two cannabis laboratories for their medical cannabis program. ACT Laboratories of Pennsylvania LLC and Keystone State Testing LLC are the companies that were approved to perform analytical testing for safety and quality in cannabis products.

Both laboratories expect to be operational before the end of 2017, according to the PennLive article. Those labs are required to test for CBD and THC content, pesticides, moisture content, residual solvents and microbiological contaminants.

The temporary lab testing regulations are somewhat comprehensive, detailing lab reporting, licensing, sampling protocols and ownership stipulations, among other rules. ACT and Keystone, the labs that were approved by the Department of Health, have their approval for two years and can renew their license after.

While the state still expects the program to be fully implemented by 2018, Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said last week they are hoping to launch the program sometime next year, according to a press release. December 2017 will mark a full year since the state opened applications for licensing businesses.

January 2018 has long been the goal for the full implementation of the program. “We have made significant progress in getting this program off the ground since Governor Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act into law last year,” says Dr. Levine. “These proposed regulations for patients and caregivers to participate are one of the final pieces we need to have in place to launch the program sometime next year.”

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Should PA Revoke a Cannabis License For Their Parent Company’s Past?

By Aaron G. Biros
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Pennsylvania Medical Solutions, LLC (PAMS), won a license to grow medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, but some think the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) should reconsider awarding that license. PAMS is a subsidiary of Vireo Health, which has medical cannabis licenses in New York and Minnesota, as well as quite the blemish on their business record. In December 2015, two former employees were accused of breaking state and federal laws by transporting cannabis oil from Minnesota to New York. Because of that history, some are questioning why exactly they were awarded the PA medical cannabis license.

A part of the PAMS application

In that school of thought is Chris Goldstein, a Philadelphia-based cannabis advocate and author of an article on Philly.com, which calls PAMS’ license into question. According to Goldstein, Vireo Health could lose their licenses in New York and Minnesota, and those former employees involved might even face federal prosecution. “On the surface it would seem that Vireo broke every rule in the book,” says Goldstein. “Not only could the company lose its permits in both of those states, but employees could face federal prosecution for interstate transport and distribution.” But does that previous wrongdoing by two former employees have any bearing on their application in PA? In Maryland, it did. According to The Baltimore Sun, concerns surrounding MaryMed’s parent company, Vireo Health, is the main reason why their permit to grow medical cannabis was revoked.

In response to some of those concerns about their PA license, Andrew Mangini, spokesman for Vireo Health, issued the following statement, which appeared in Goldstein’s article: “While we’re aware of allegations against two former employees of an affiliate, those individuals have never had a role in our application or in the management of PAMS,” says Mangini. “It’s also important to note that our Minnesota affiliate and our parent company Vireo Health have not been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations.”

Below is a timeline of events leading up to the PA DOH defending their decision to give PAMS a license:

  • December 2015: Two former employees of Minnesota Medical Solutions, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, transported a half-million dollars worth of cannabis oil from Minnesota to New York, violating state and federal laws.
  • February 9th, 2017: The two former employees were formally charged with crimes in Minnesota for illegally transporting cannabis across state lines.
  • February 20th-March 20th, 2017: PAMS submitted a license application to the PA DOH between these dates, listing their business state as Minnesota on the application.
  • May 2017: Maryland DOH suspended the licenses of MaryMed LLC, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, over concerns that the company did not provide information related to the Minnesota and New York licenses on their application, according to the Washington Post.
  • June 20th, 2017: PA DOH releases a list of license winners; PAMS was listed among winners for a cultivation license in Scranton.
  • June 26th, 2017: PA DOH officials defend their decision to award PAMS a license, according to a Philly.com article. That same day, The Baltimore Sun reported the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission revoked MaryMed, LLC their license, citing concerns about Vireo Health.

April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the PA DOH, told Philly.com in June, “Remember, the permits are given to business entities, not people.” The point she is making refers to the charges being filed against former employees, not any of the businesses who hold medical cannabis licenses.

Steve Schain, Esq. practicing at the Hoban law Group

Steve Schain, Esq., an attorney with Hoban Law Group in Pennsylvania, has seen no objective evidence of anything wrongful in either PAMS’ application or the DOH’s processing of it. “Marijuana related businesses often have distinct, affiliated components and the Department of Health faces two critical issues,” says Schain.

“First, whether grow applicant PA Medical Solutions, LLC (PAMS) had a duty to disclose alleged wrongdoing on its application, failed to fulfill this duty and, if so, whether PAMS’ application should be amended, re-scored or disqualified. Second, as part of its ongoing license reporting requirements, whether grow licensee PAMS has any duty to disclose the alleged wrongdoing. The answer to much of this hinges on whether criminal or administrative charges were leveled against just Vireo Health’s former employees or also included the entity and whether these individuals or enterprise fell within Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Organization Permit Application definition of an “Applicant” (“individual or business applying for the permit”) or applicant’s “Principals, Financial Backers, Operators or Employees” of PAMS. Either way, it does not presently appear that the [PA] DOH missed anything.”

The list of permit winners in PA

This does raise the question of whether or not Vireo Health is under investigation, which is yet to be determined. According to Goldstein in his Philly.com article, the Minnesota DOH declined to comment on Vireo Health and the New York DOH says the department’s investigation is ongoing. “The selection of a Vireo Health affiliate to grow and process medical cannabis in Pennsylvania has cast a serious shadow over the integrity of the program even before it has started,” says Goldstein.

In Maryland, the DOH revoked their license as a direct result of those former employees in Minnesota committing crimes, according to The Baltimore Sun. Commissioner Eric Sterling said there is “a reasonable likelihood of diversion of medical cannabis by the applicant.” So should Pennsylvania do the same? Do those crimes by former employees have any bearing on their application? This story raises a number of questions regarding applications for state licenses that are largely left unanswered. One thing we know for certain: each state handles applications very differently.