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That Week Pennsylvania Launched Its Medical Marijuana Program

By Rick Schettino
Feb 26, 2018

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health estimates that about 1,700 patients visited medical marijuana dispensaries in the state’s first week of sales. The launch went fairly smoothly all things considered, though there were some glitches, as can be expected.

The Numbers

Approximately 19,600 patients have registered with the state but only 5,000 have been certified by physicians. And so far, about 380 physicians are authorized to write recommendations with many more expected to apply in the future.

Under Pennsylvania law, there are 17 conditions which can qualify patients for a medical marijuana card. Each patient is allowed to buy a month’s supply of medical cannabis per visit. But only sales of non-smokable products are allowed in the state. These include pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquid, and other derivatives.

Chris Visco, co-owner of TerraVida, one of the state’s first dispensaries to begin selling cannabis claims that during the first six days more than 300 people made appointments to meet with a staff pharmacist, and another 300 were walk-ins.

Though the DOH says medical marijuana has been dispensed to more than 1,100 patients and caregivers since last Thursday, they claim it’s too early to compile sales data.

Sticker Shock

Some patients and activists went into sticker shock when they saw the high prices being asked at dispensaries. But prices varied widely from store to store, ranging from $25 to $45 for the same disposable vape pen, and from $80 to $115 for a cartridge of “Reserve Joliet Jake.”  

According to Steve Schain, a senior attorney in Philadelphia with the Hoban Law Group, Pennsylvania producers spend far more than producers in other states.

“Number one, the real issue is the price per pound dropping. That’s gonna cause a problem when marijuana in Pennsylvania costs $1,600 per pound to produce and the same pound costs $500 to produce in California,” said Schain.

“[Going forward] The greatest threat to the industry is how are you gonna compete? If you could get a gallon of gas for 50 cents, what would happen to every gas station in western Pennsylvania? They’d go out of business. When the industry gets to a more mature level, you’re gonna see a price war. You’ll see mega-farms in California which will hurt mid-sized and small growers.”

According to PennLive.com, Pennsylvania officials are trusting market forces to keep prices competitive.

What About Smokables?

Many activists and politicians are working to expand the menu of legal items to include cannabis-infused edibles and smokable dried flowers. Senator Daylin Leach, (D) supports the additions to Pennsylvania’s program.

The addition of smokable and edible cannabis to the state’s approved products list would not require legislative action or approval. Under the law, The Pennsylvania Department of Health has been empowered to make that call.

Supplies Running Dry

Although the state has licensed a dozen grower-processors, only one, Cresco Yeltrah, shipped product to retailers last week, and several dispensaries sold out of some items within the first hour of opening.  

Cresco says they have restocked the sold-out inventory and are preparing for a second harvest of medical marijuana. Two more licensed producers, Terrapin and Standard Farms, are expected to begin shipping product in mid-March.

A Solid Start

“Pennsylvania is doing an amazing job,” says Schain. “It has hit every deadline and moved much faster than I thought it would,” he added. “Is it perfect? No. Is anything perfect? No. But in the world of legalized marijuana, they’ve done an amazing job — and I’m cynical.”

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is expected to grow into one of the nation’s largest markets. According to the Allentown Morning-Call, “Pennsylvania’s relatively limited market is estimated to start at $125 million and grow at annual rate of 180 percent until it makes up 9.2 percent of the U.S. market share by 2020.”

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