If medical marijuana in Pennsylvania were a sports event, its rollout would be the Super Bowl. Lots of hype, but the game didn’t quite deliver all the benefits promised.

Pennsylvanians holding or waiting for their medical marijuana cards shouldn’t worry, though. While supply issues have clogged the delivery pipeline and caused prices to skyrocket, some insiders say it’s just growing pains. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Pennsylvania’s complex medical marijuana system certainly can’t be, either.

Growing and selling medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

While medical marijuana card holders wonder why they can’t find the products promised to deliver relief, it might help to understand how the Pennsylvania medical marijuana system is set up:

  • Not just anyone can grow medical marijuana for sale in Pennsylvania. Permits are required. Applicants pay nonrefundable fees of $10,000 just to apply, plus a $200,000 deposit that becomes nonrefundable for the winners. Through a rigorous process, the state awarded permits to only 12 grower-processors in June 2017, divided in limits of two per six regions.[i]The permitted grower/processors are located in Berks, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Fulton, Franklin, Clinton, Montour, Greene, Allegheny, Lawrence, and Jefferson counties.
  • Strict regulatory requirements assure patients that products sold at licensed dispensaries are safe and actually comply with labeling statements.
  • Along the same lines, only licensed dispensaries can sell medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. These dispensaries are authorized to sell nothing but medical marijuana and related items, such as vaporizers but not rolling papers. Pennsylvania awarded permits to 14 licensees, which can each operate three facilities within a single Medical Marijuana Region. A permittee cannot, however, operate multiple dispensaries in a single county.

Pennsylvania medical marijuana expands

The initial permits awarded represented Phase 1 of the application and permitting process. Phase 2, which opened in April 2018, is expected to issue up to 13 new grower/processor permits and up to 23 new primary dispensary permits.

If all available permits are issued, the second phase will expand licensed grower/processors to 25, and dispensary permittees to 50 – both the maximum numbers allowed by the Pennsylvania medical marijuana law. The possibility of multiple dispensaries under a single company’s permit means that Pennsylvania could see a maximum of 150 dispensaries statewide.[ii]

“This next phase of the program will expand the reach of medical marijuana to make it more convenient for patients who need this medication,” said state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine when Phase 2 was announced.

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Pennsylvania

The first of the licensed medical marijuana dispensaries opened in February 2018. But just because the doors opened didn’t mean that medical marijuana card holders had easy, or cheap, access to the relief they need. As dispensaries started operating, some were offering only limited selections or quantities. Even at prices that could range from $80 to $144 per gram — said to far exceed the price of gold per gram – dispensaries were selling out.

As of early May 2018, four licensed dispensaries – in Pittsburgh, Hanover, Malvern, and Bristol — were not yet offering product, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program. However, that handful of dispensaries was outnumbered by the other 18 licensed dispensaries that had product to sell. They are located in Erie, Butler, Pittsburgh, Chambersburg, Carlisle, Enola, Steelton, Lancaster, Phoenixville, Devon, King of Prussia, Plymouth Meeting, Abington, Sellersville, Bethlehem, Edwardsville, and Scranton.

Grower/processor status

Due to the state laws requiring medical marijuana to be grown in Pennsylvania, and only by licensed grower/processors, no plants were growing until after the first phase of permits were awarded. As of May 2018, the grower/processors slated to provide product differed on their availability timelines. Here’s what could be determined:

  • Cresco Yeltrah, of Butler, Butler County, was first out of the gate, harvesting Pennsylvania’s first crop of medical marijuana in January 2018.
  • Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania, based in South Heidelberg Township, Berks County, says product will be available in spring 2018.[iii]
  • Vireo Health, of Scranton, Lackawanna County, expects to begin offering oral solutions, vaporizer cartridges, and capsules in the third quarter of 2018.
  • Terrapin Care Station, of Jersey Shore, Clinton County, is offering product.
  • GTI Industries, of Danville, Montour County, is offering products at its RISE dispensaries in Erie, Steelton, and Carlisle, and coming to York.
  • AGRiMED Industries, of Carmichaels, Greene County, said products could be available in late spring 2018.[iv]

All others did not appear to have notices on their websites or could not be reached for more information.

Medical marijuana for vaporization in Pennsylvania

A major change announced on April 16, 2018, could bring down prices and amp up supply. Levine announced that dispensaries could sell dried cannabis flower for vaporization. She adopted the new policy swiftly after the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Boardrecommended the change.[v]

Unlike medical marijuana oils and extracts, the dried flower form doesn’t require extensive, and costly, processing. Chris Visco, owner of TerraVida Holistic Centers, predicted that some patients could pay 50 percent less for their medical marijuana.

Another grower/processor, Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Yeltrah, expected simplified production, saying that his processors simply had to “weigh it and put it in a container. There’s no manual labor turning it into something else, whether it’s filling a capsule or filling a vape pen. Every time someone touches it, it makes it more expensive.”

Levine said she approved the sale of cannabis flower to provide “another tool” for patients seeking relief from painful or debilitating conditions.

“The whole idea of this program is to provide another tool in the toolbox of physicians to treat these conditions,” she said.

To find out if a medical marijuana dispensary is near you and whether it is offering products, visit the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Programand follow “Dispensaries” to the dispensary information map.