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This week sees two significant developments in the medical marijuana industry for the state of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has agreed to increase the list of medical conditions that can be legally treated with medical cannabis to include opioid addiction; and five new drug rehab research facilities in and around Philadelphia have been granted medical licenses to study the effects of cannabis on pain management. This may turn the City of Brotherly Love into the new Silicon Valley for medical marijuana research.

The Pennsylvania Secretary of Health cautions that these new policies does not mean the state of Pennsylvania is in favor of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, but rather is strictly limited to the treatment of serious medical conditions, including pain management and opioid addiction, and only under the supervision of a licensed medical physician. Dr. Rachel Levine also stated that medical marijuana will not be used as a solitary treatment procedure, but can only be used in conjunction with other, more traditional, medical procedures for patients under a doctor’s care.

Pennsylvania thus becomes the first state to permit doctors to use marijuana in the treatment of opioid addiction — a still controversial new therapy for opioid abuse therapy. In Philadelphia alone last year over twelve hundred persons died of opioid overdoses. Medical researchers are currently testing how opioid addicts favorably react to first switching from opioids to cannabis, and then being weaned off marijuana to complete sobriety without the physical and mental problems that so often accompany opioid withdrawal.

Those receiving clinical licenses to study marijuana therapy in Philadelphia are: Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine; Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College; the Drexel University Medical College; the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. The Pennsylvania State Legislature will be discussing how much, if any, money will be granted to these medical institutions for their new programs. Political experts say the debate and wrangling among state lawmakers could become a real firefight.

The problem is that the federal government currently restricts, and in some cases prohibits, the use of marijuana in any form for the treatment of medical problems. The new cannabis rules in Pennsylvania fly in the face of these federal policies, and so the issue becomes one of state’s rights versus Washington’s role in controlling and restricting medical marijuana use. It’s possible that federal money for the entire state of Pennsylvania will be withheld because of the new rules.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s broad new initiative also includes the following:

Marijuana may now be prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner for chronic pain management, instead of opioids.

Marijuana vaporizers will now become legal to sell in pharmacies throughout the state, for use with whole plant or dried leaf extracts.

Permitting physicians to choose whether or not they wish to become licensed to prescribe cannabis treatment through the Patient and Caregiver Registry.

Making it mandatory that patients pay for their medical marijuana ID card on a yearly basis. The current fee is fifty dollars.  

Adam Legas

Adam Legas

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