Pa. state medical marijuana program expands to include dry leaf

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Patients in Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program should be able to obtain the drug in dry leaf or flower form for vaporization by sometime this summer, the Wolf administration announced Monday.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said she was accepting that and other recommendations made recently by an advisory panel, including the addition of four medical conditions to the list of those qualified to use medical marijuana.

State law prevents dispensaries from selling marijuana that's designed to be smoked, but consumer advocate Chris Goldstein has said patients who buy the dry leaf product are able to smoke it instead of vaporize it.

Levine said the option of dry leaf or flower form could make the drug cheaper to produce and less expensive for patients.

The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project said the change will help the state's patients.

"Producers will be able to get medicine into the hands of patients much more quickly and for much lower cost to patients," said Becky Dansky, the group's legislative counsel. "This is vitally important for patient access right now while the program is still getting off the ground and production is not yet at full capacity."

Levine said she also was adopting the recommendation that children who need the drug be certified by a pediatrician, although she said it will take some time to implement because more pediatricians will need to be enrolled and trained.

She said physicians who want to be certified to prescribe medical marijuana can opt out of the list of doctors made available to the general public, but registered patients will have access to the full list.

Nearly 1,000 doctors have registered with the state, and more than half of them have been approved to participate.

The list of qualifying conditions is being expanded to include use in cancer remission therapy and opioid-addiction therapy, or for neurodegenerative and spastic movement disorders. The list had already included AIDS, autism, cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, Crohn's disease and other conditions.

Officials say the program, under which the drug became available to patients in February, has been expanding quickly. It now encompasses 30,400 registered patients and 11,900 patients with ID cards who have obtained medical marijuana at a dispensary.

Two grower-processors are currently providing medical marijuana to nine operating dispensaries, with six more grower-processors and eight more dispensaries poised to come online in the near future.