The state Department of Health released temporary regulations last week for medical marijuana dispensaries.

The release marks another step  toward implementing Act 16, establishing a comprehensive medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania.

The department said it is still on track with its initial goal of having medical marijuana available to qualified patients in the state 18 to 24 months after Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law in April.

The temporary regulations, which are open for public feedback until Friday, Nov. 4, outline plans for, among other things, an electronic tracking system, security and staffing for dispensaries in the state.

Some  tidbits from the regulations:

  • A dispensary can't give a patient or caregiver more than a 30-day supply of medical marijuana until the patient has exhausted all but a seven-day supply.
  • A licensed practitioner or pharmacist must be present at the dispensary during all operating hours, but they may not treat or certify a patient on site.
  • A dispensary may not be within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center, at the same site as a grower/processor facility, inside the same building as a retail business or in the same space as another practitioner or physician.
  • A dispensary can't advertise or provide medical marijuana for free, as part of a promotional giveaway or coupon program.
  • Labels for packaged medical marijuana may not contain "any cartoon, color scheme, image, graphic or feature that might make the package attractive to children."
  • A dispensary must have a comprehensive security and surveillance system and record all visits in and out of rooms containing medical marijuana.
  • Vehicles permitted to transport medical marijuana can't have any markings that would indicate they are being used to transport medical marijuana, nor may delivery team members wear any clothing or symbols that indicate they may possess the substance.
  • All dispensaries must use the same electronic tracking system  chosen by the department.

Jodie Schaefer, owner of a vape shop and tobacco shop in Doylestown, has been working with a team of six in anticipation of submitting an application for a dispensary license when they become available.

She said the temporary regulations are about what her team expected, based on their research into other states' regulations, and she likes the department's plan for a standardized electronic tracking system.

Chris Goldstein, spokesman for cannabis advocacy group Philly NORML, said the requirements for so much security seemed "a little bizarre."

Schaefer agreed that the security requirements might be a little excessive, but she trusts the department.

"It's going to be more costly, but it will make sure patients are safe," she said.

Goldstein praised the department for its expedience during the process thus far, but he said the law itself makes him wonder whether patient's access to the medicine is the priority.

Unlike other states with medical marijuana programs, Pennsylvania's proposed regulations  don't require applicants to reside in the state, allow corporations or publicly traded companies to apply and allow owners of the licenses to transfer them for profit, much like liquor licenses, Goldstein said.

All these regulations are subject to change before full implementation, but Goldstein said it appears Pennsylvania is more intent right now on creating an industry than serving a patient population.

"Every person or corporation looking to get into this industry needs to be asked how much they're planning to charge patients," he said, pointing out that insurance doesn't cover the purchase of medical marijuana.

Schaefer said it's still too early to determine pricing but, like Goldstein, she's worried large corporations could be allowed to enter the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania.

She said she doesn't foresee that happening for several years, though, because the department has shown its focus is on patient advocacy.

Schaefer pointed out that the department has approved 103 Safe Harbor applications, which allow parents of children with qualifying conditions to legally transport medical marijuana from another state back to Pennsylvania.

— Reach Dispatch politics reporter David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid. Like the blog on Facebook at The CannaBiz Kid.

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