The state Department of Health has hired its director to lead to Office of Medical Marijuana, though it's really more of a promotion.

John J. Collins, formerly with the department's HIV care section, was announced last week as the man responsible for guiding the implementation of the state's medical marijuana program, expected to be completed by early 2018, according to a DOH news release.

The department touted Collins' leadership experience and work in another heavily regulated medical market.

Medical marijuana advocates, despite the choice's lack of experience specifically in the cannabis industry, praised the hire for similar reasons.

Tom Santanna, with the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, said he "couldn't be happier" with Collins' selection.

"I'm confident he will do a great job," Santanna said. "If you have executive experience, you can learn the subject matter."

Chris Goldstein, spokesman for cannabis advocacy group Philly NORML, echoed that sentiment.

"The person who gets the program up and running doesn't need to know as much about marijuana as regulatory laws in Pennsylvania," he said. "There are very few experts (in medical marijuana)."

Goldstein said local advocates should just be happy the department didn't hire a state police officer to run the program, which was the case in New Jersey.

Santanna and Goldstein both said the hire is most important because it continues to move the state's budding program in a positive direction.

"There's no stalling of the program," Santanna said.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 16 into law to create a medical marijuana program, the department has released various surveys and requests for information, and it completed the Safe Harbor guidelines and application process to allow parents of sick children to legally bring medical marijuana into the state.

Collins, who has only been with the department since April, previously served as chief operating officer for Triad Isotopes Inc., a private-sector pharmaceutical company in Orlando, Florida. He will make between $76,519 and $116,265 annually, according to the original job posting.

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