Medical marijuana is legal in Pa. But where do things actually stand?
Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | 09.21.16
(Harrisburg) -- Medical marijuana has been legal for a couple of months in Pennsylvania.
There's so much talk surrounding it.
But the explaining isn't really there.
And there's a reason for that - there's still a lot to be decided.
So where is the state at this point, and where is it headed?
"Anna? Do you have some Barbies you wanna play with?" says Lolly Bentch. She's sitting on the floor of her home in the Harrisburg suburbs, surrounded by kids, including her 8-year-old Anna.
Bentch is one of the grizzly moms - really, that's what they called themselves - who worked and worked and worked at the Capitol, waiting outside the governor's door, holding rallies, press conferences, you name it - to make medical marijuana a possibility for kids like her daughter.
"It's roughly 33% of epileptics' that cannot get relief from traditional treatment options. And, Anna fell into that category," says Bentch.
Bentch recently received her safe harbor license so she can get medical marijuana for Anna.
The license protects her from legal action by the state, though it's shaky ground.
Photo by Ben Allen/WITF
Anna giggles with her mom Lolly Bentch. Lolly recently received a safe harbor license to get medical marijuana for Anna, to treat a medical condition that once left her with severe seizures and couldn't be addressed by pharmaceutical drugs.
A country district attorney, or even the feds could come in, if they really wanted.
She doesn't spend much time worrying about that, instead focusing on her daughter.
"She's a happy little kid. You know, she's got some cognitive delays, she's, you know, she might not, she might not, have a, you know, normal life, but so what?" she adds.
Choking up, she continues: "You know? It's ok. She's like, my little Peter Pan, she might never grow up, but that's okay, you know?
Bentch wants the best for Anna.
She smiles from ear to ear all day long, that's what Anna does. She just smiles, and it's just this contagious smile, as long as she's smiling, I'm happy.
Safe harbor license
The safe harbor license is just one piece of the law, and this is where things get kinda complicated.
Regulations are getting written bit by bit, so medical marijuana legalization is coming to life slowly...
"I call it the back end process. It's not the process that everyone is aware of. It's kinda like the wild wild west at this point," says Tom Santanna, a lobbyist who worked on legalization, and is following the regulatory process.
There's a long way to go: regulations for growers, processors, dispensaries, physicians, patients, caregivers.
But let's jump ahead.
You get a prescription from your doctor - remember, they're a key piece here - because you have one of the 17 approved conditions and they think this might help treat it.
Where to get medical marijuana
Right now, we don't know where you are going to be able to get medical marijuana.
That's where national consultant Brett Roper - who runs the firm Medicine Man Technologies - comes in.
"The experience is one that's filled with, a little bit like riding a roller coaster. Lots of highs, lots of lows," says Roper.
Roper has worked in a bunch of states - Nevada, California, New York, Illinois to name a few- and says he already has clients in Pennsylvania, as they try to get ready for the state's system.
"The actual application process has varied so widely from state to state that oftentimes, we're not actually sure what that application is going to look like until it's released," he adds.
To be clear, there isn't a public application yet in Pennsylvania - regulators haven't gotten to that point.
Roper is hoping the app just doesn't look like Maryland's.
"I felt like I was back in high school taking a junior essay, it was a very interesting experience," he says. "Application was submitted in Times New Roman 12 type, and have very specific word counts."
Who will apply?
People like Jennifer Bergstresser up in Allentown, who is partnering with others to form Pennsylvania Cannabis.
It's planning to compete for a license.
"It's exciting. As with anything new, you're kinda like a kid on Christmas morning every day. What's new in Legislature, what has the state brought down today, what can we add to our business plan, what can we share with our advisory board," says Bergstresser.
She says the business is fully funded, with a lawyer, accountant, and consultants already at work.
But to figure out the commercial side is going to take time.
The Department of Health just recently hired a director for the medical marijuana division, and says it's going to be until 2018 before the whole system is ready.
Lolly Bentch knows her daughter Anna will be able to make it with her safe harbor certificate - but for others.
"Concerns about medical cannabis? Concerns that we don't, we won't get it fast enough for everybody. That's my biggest concern," says Bentch.
While medical marijuana is legal, this is just the first draft of a book that has a lot of chapters.
Published in Healthcare Transformation