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Ah, Pennsylvania. Just average. Not below average, at least, but a C+ doesn’t put the Keystone State at the top of the class.

That’s the grade Pennsylvania earned in Americans for Safe Access’ “2019 State of the States Report” on medical cannabis programs. The nonprofit advocating for medical marijuana patients, doctors, and researchers scrutinized the medical marijuana programs in 47 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia.

“Passing a medical cannabis law is only the first step in a lengthy implementation process, and the level of forethought and advanced input from patients can make the difference between a well-designed program and one that is seriously flawed,” the report stated. None of the state laws passed since 1996 “can be considered ideal from a patient’s standpoint.”

In fact, Pennsylvania is now struggling with what some have called a “medical marijuana drought,” as too few growers strain to supply more than 60 licensed dispensaries. That drought materialized after the report was issued, but observers point to Pennsylvania’s bureaucratic machinery – which drew frowns from the report’s writers – as one reason for the shortage.

The Pennsylvania findings

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has been “laser focused on expanding the state’s medical cannabis program,” the report said. Approving use of dried marijuana flower – considered effective and affordable for medical uses – earned plaudits.

The state’s approval of eight medical schools as research centers, licensing of more dispensaries, and streamlined process to add new conditions to the list of serious medical conditions qualifying patients for medical marijuana ID cards were also considered positives.

However, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program is overburdened by red tape, the report noted. Plus, “patients reported that the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis is too limited and the prices are very high.” Patients also want access to edibles, are “frustrated with a lack of dispensaries in rural areas,” and believe that health care providers need more training on medical cannabis.

Pennsylvania earned its C+ through scores applied on a 100-point basis to five criteria:

  • Patient rights and civil protection, 71: The state earned high marks for protection from arrest, parental rights protections, and explicit privacy standards, but lower on affirmative defense and housing protections.
  • Access to medicine, 67: Pennsylvania scored well on key areas of allowing distribution programs and not imposing bans on THC and CBD. However, a lack of “noncommercial cultivation” – AKA, “grow your own” – by individuals or collectives meant zero points.
  • Ease of navigation, 84: Pennsylvania’s qualifying conditions are comprehensive, and new conditions are easily added. Minors have reasonable access, and application fees are reasonable. The state got dinged for not allowing multiple-year registrations.
  • Functionality, 84: Patients can access medicine at dispensaries, and significant administrative or supply problems are minimal. Possession and purchase limits are reasonable.
  • Consumer safety and provider requirements, 69.32: This category covered dispensing, growing, manufacturing, and laboratory operations. Standard operating procedures earned high marks across the board, as did recall protocols and pesticide guidance. However, areas falling short included staff training, product labeling, and required testing.

Department of Health touts evidence base, high quality

A Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson notes that the Americans for Safe Access report is based on “an unrestricted, home-grow environment.”

“We are committed to operating an evidence-based, high quality medical marijuana program,” he said in a statement to PA Cannabis News. “We are constantly communicating and meeting with medical marijuana patients across the state to discuss their needs, what is working in the program and what could be improved upon. We are continuing to work to ensure that Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is one of the best in the country.”

Medical marijuana across the nation

Nationwide, affordability tops the list of concerns, the report concluded. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said their medicine is not affordable, with more than 25 percent saying that high costs prevented them from getting treatment.

“While some states have worked to clarify the role of insurance and insurance companies when it comes to medical cannabis, no state has yet adopted a law that permits or requires insurance companies to cover the cost of medical cannabis,” wrote Director of Government Affairs David Mangone on the Americans for Safe Access blog.

ASA urged lawmakers to adopt legislation that “reduces the costs of medical cannabis and allows for health insurance to help defray the costs of a medicine that currently must be paid for out of pocket.”

Find the “2019 State of the States Report” at Americans for Safe Access, www.safeaccessnow.org/sos.