Pennsylvania is one step closer to issuing permits to grow and distribute medical marijuana across the commonwealth.

The Department of Health outlined the first phase of implementing a medical marijuana program during a live-streamed news conference Wednesday. The program was signed into law in April to allow residents under a physician’s care to use marijuana to treat 17 medical conditions.

Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy said full implementation is expected to take up to two years, but the first phase is on track to be up and running by mid-2018.

The department will accept applications to be a grower/processor or dispensary between Feb. 20 and March 20, with guidelines posted Jan. 17 to the state’s website .

“While this is a regulatory process, we always keep in mind that this is a medically focused process,” Murphy said.

After asking for the public’s input, Murphy said, the department received survey responses from nearly 900 growers and processors and 5,000 different patients, most commonly listing post-traumatic stress disorder and pain as their qualifying ailments.

A relatively small number of permits will be issued to meet that demand.

Two growers or processors will be permitted initially in each of Pennsylvania’s six defined medical marijuana regions, up to 12 across the state, and up to 27 permits will be issued for dispensaries.

Four dispensary permits will be issued across Region 3, including one each in York and Dauphin counties. Lancaster County, which is part of the southeast region, also will  start with one permitted dispensary.

Medical marijuana office program director John Collins said each permitted dispensary operator will be allowed to open up to two additional dispensary sites in their region. However, the sites cannot be in the same county as the original location.

Collins emphasized that the primary permits for growers, processors and dispensary operators are expected to be just the start of the state’s medical marijuana program, although a timeline for the second phase is not yet  laid out.

“We are in the planning stages now and want to make sure we get this first phase properly planned,” he said.

The guardians of 134 patients who use medical marijuana to treat 17 conditions, from debilitating seizures to post-traumatic stress disorder, have already received a letter allowing them to import medical marijuana from outside  Pennsylvania.

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