Pennsylvania’s Department of Health Rapidly Approves Advisory Board Recommendations

Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis law created an Advisory Board to make recommendations to the Department of Health. The Board is comprised of medical professionals, law enforcement representatives, patient advocates and appointees from the majority and minority parties. Pursuant to section 1201(f) the Board “shall have the power to prescribe, amend and repeal bylaws, rules and regulations governing the manner in which the business of the advisory board is conducted and the manner in which the duties granted to it are fulfilled. The advisory board may delegate supervision of the administration of advisory board activities to an administrative secretary and other employees of the department as the secretary shall appoint.”

The Advisory Board submitted its first recommendations to the Department of Health. The recommendations included allowing “dry leaf or flower” to be cultivated and sold at Pennsylvania’s licensed dispensaries. The law previously defined “medical marijuana products” as processed oils (including concentrates), tinctures, pills, and topicals. While smoking cannabis is specifically prohibited by the law, a form that can be “vaporized or nebulized” is permitted, thus opening the door to flower. The Board also recommended adding four qualifying conditions – Neurodegenerative Diseases, Dyskinetic and Spastic Movement Disorders, Addiction substitute therapy – opioid reduction and Terminally ill. Further, it recommended cancer in remission as qualifying as well as simplifying the definition of “chronic or intractable” pain.

The Department of Health had up to one year to act on the recommendations of the Board. In a move that excited patients and advocates, Dr. Rachel Levine on behalf of the Department acted quickly adopting all of the recommendations above. Her rapid reaction is significant for a number of reasons: 1. It demonstrates the importance of the support of the Executive Branch. During the efforts to pass medical cannabis reform activist and legislators ran in to a brick wall in former Governor Tom Corbett (R). The former Governor refused to meet with patients and dismissed medical cannabis as a “gateway drug.” When Governor Tom Wolf took office in 2015 he made it clear that he fully supported the program. 2. The Advisory Board does not exist in name only. It clearly took its responsibilities seriously and acted quickly to address some important patient concerns; 3. Adding dry leaf/flower as a “medical cannabis product” give patients greater ability to find products that effectively treat their condition. Equally important is affordability. Processed oil products have been expensive as PA waits for its licensed cultivation facilities to be come full operational. Providing access to the plant itself at a lower price point than processed products is critical for patients on fixed incomes as medical insurance does not cover medical cannabis products.

As more cultivation facilities become licensed and operational patients will have increased abilities to find the strain or product that most effectively treats their condition. By adding cancer “in remission” and streamlining the definition of “chronic pain” more patients will have access to medical cannabis. The four added conditions bring the number of defined qualifying conditions up to 21 from 17. Adding “addiction substitute therapy” is especially critical as Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, struggles to cope with the opioid crisis and the consequences of over-prescribing addictive narcotics. Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program may have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, but patients can feel confident that the Advisory Board takes its role seriously and is committed to improving the program.

Patrick Nightingale is the Executive Director of Pittsburgh NORML. You can follow their work on Facebook and Twitter. Visit their website at and make a contribution to support their work by clicking here. 

12 thoughts

  1. I would sincerely like to thank Dr. Rachel Levine for her rapid reaction to allow more qualifying conditions to the list and for allowing vaporization of the dried female flowers. After decades of distrusting both Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania politics the Democrats are making cannabis progress.

    Even if you have a medical marijuana card you can’t smoke it. I mean, why would you want to when you can get just as high and without the smoke? Vaping tastes better; you avoid having an ashtray mouth; and the overall experience, ritual if you will, is much better than smoking. Volcano it.

    If you’re caught smoking it the cops are still going to bust you because that’s still illegal anyway. There’s no difference if you got an MMJ card or not.

    You still can’t legally grow you own in Pennsylvania. Some patients might take up personal cultivation and reduce the cost of their medicine. That would be the next step for the Committee, allow personal cultivation. Most people probably won’t, but again, it can depend on the price from the dispensary. Stands to reason the more it costs more likely people are to try to grow their own. Cannabis cooperatives and clubs should be allowed, no permit under a certain number of members, certain number of plants per member . . .

    1. Congrats, Oracle, I’m happy for you!

      (And, if you “accidently” turned the Volcano up too high, and smoked a bowl instead of vaping it, who’s gonna call the cops or prove the “crime?” Baby steps!)

  2. Now what in Maine? People who maybe would not take a vacation in Maine will when you have legal retail and places for tourists to vape, smoke or eat like coffeeshops. Some of them will like it and will return. Even after adult retail is legal in their states some of them will still be return customers.

    Kaching! $

    When Trump makes a deal with Cory Booker as part of a commitment to end Jim Crow cannabis laws and improve race relations. None of this Charlottesville shit repeat, Mr. President.

    Public cannabis consumption in The Netherlands has always been frowned upon and often against city and town code which is why they allow coffeeshops. It’s a British thing.

    Britain needs to legalize cannabis, and it solves several problems in one fell swoop. It would eliminate the rowdy public consumption because it’s cheaper for them just to stay domestic back in the U.K.

    1. I only take issue on this one point: Trump doesn’t make deals; that would require an ounce of integrity, which he does not have. Rather, he commits extortion, fraud, and crime in general.

      1. I must agree. The feds need to hurry and legalize it, de-schedule cannabis completely, before he changes his mind and swings back to being a prohibitionist.

    1. Our legislature in PA is controlled by the GOP. While we have won over many conservative allies, I do not believe home grow would be seriously considered by the legislature. We narrowly beat back CBD only and a 10% THC cap.

      1. Perhaps not by THIS legislature… but a PAC refusing candidate in November?

  3. Australia is on the radar. IMHO Oz will look to the Crown for direction. If London legalizes, it’s a green light for Australia to legalize.

    Where is Bill deBlasio for us? I heard his wife would legalize. NYC needs to have Amsterdam style cannabis coffeeshops. I mean, people are freakin smoking on the subway. Legal adult recreational in NYC is long overdue. Como is on board. WTF are you waiting for?

    Andrew and Bill ought to have a confab and by executive order or something allow NYC and other cities to allow legalization and state and local resources will NOT be expended to enforce (federal) cannabis prohibition.

    Let’s go. I want to see this moving. It adds momentum to the July legalization implementation.

  4. Enough of waiting for the state to give permission. I’m an adult and gave myself permission a long time ago.I am a state of one and here marijuana is legal.

    1. PAGeorge,
      Yeah, me too, man!
      But it sure helps when the cop recognizes your authority to do so!

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