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State grants children access to medical marijuana starting in July

Starting in July, patients under the age of 18 will be allowed to use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, the Department of Health said Friday.

Yet, those patients won’t be able to purchase medical marijuana here, since the program is not yet operational.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed medical marijuana into law on April 17, and the law became active in Pennsylvania as of May 17. Since then, the department has been developing a medical marijuana program, which it expects to complete in 18 to 24 months.

In the meantime, the department released temporary regulations, called the Safe Harbor provision, which will allow children, through their parents, legal guardians or caregivers, to request permission from the state to use medical marijuana.

Here are three things to know about what the Safe Harbor provision actually means.

Crossing state lines

Despite the use of medical marijuana being approved by the state, it is still federally illegal.

This means that it is illegal to cross state lines with medical marijuana.

“It’s completely illegal. You’re not supposed to do it at all,” Andrew Blasco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Industry Group said.  Yet, he doesn’t think that law enforcement is going to devote resources to enforce the law if people have proof the state approved them to obtain it.

The department also said it is unlikely the feds will crack down on patients crossing state lines.

“The U.S. Department of Justice has the authority to enforce civil and criminal federal laws relating to marijuana use and possession,” Yasmin Coleman, the department’s director of marketing said. “In light of current U.S. Department of Justice guidance, however, it may be unlikely that federal authorities would bring civil enforcement actions or criminal investigations and prosecutions to seriously ill individuals or their caregivers, as long as they are acting pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program.”

Under the Safe Harbor provision, minors will only be allowed to use marijuana in the forms it was approved for under state law – pills, oils, tinctures or liquids, gels, creams or ointments, as well as vaporization or nebulization.

Unclear which states will sell to Pennsylvania patients

Out of the 25 states to legalize medical marijuana, the department said it cannot speak to the regulations in other states as far as which ones will sell medical marijuana to Pennsylvania patients.

It recommends reaching out to each individual state to learn of its status.

Fred Sembach, a spokesperson for Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), said he understood there were six states that would sell to medical marijuana patients out-of-state, he just didn’t know which ones they were.

Sen. Folmer co-sponsored the medical marijuana legislation.

Physician approval

A Pennsylvania-licensed physician will have to write a safe harbor letter explaining to the state why the patient will benefit from medical marijuana. The patient has to have one of the conditions approved under the new law.

The approved conditions are:

  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • autism
  • cancer
  • crohn’s disease
  • damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • epilepsy
  • glaucoma
  • HIV/ AIDS,
  • Huntington’s disease
  • inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • intractable seizures
  • multiple sclerosis
  • neuropathies
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opioid therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
  • sickle cell anemia

Those applying for medical marijuana under the Safe Harbor provision will also need a picture ID, and they should be prepared to complete a background check.

“In July, parents, legal guardians, caregivers and spouses will be able to apply to the department for a Safe Harbor Letter that will allow them to administer medical marijuana obtained from outside of Pennsylvania to minors in their care,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy. “Once approved, the letter should be carried whenever medical marijuana is being transported outside of an individual’s home.”

The department plans to issue a set of temporary regulations each month. In June, it started accepting feedback through on online survey regarding growers and processors as well as for dispensaries and laboratories.

The dispensaries and laboratories survey will close on July 5.

In the upcoming months, the department will write regulations for physicians, patients and caregivers, and research institutions.

“We are actively working to implement a high quality, efficient, and compliant medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania,” Murphy said. “The department welcomes and encourages input from the public, its partners, and stakeholders during the temporary regulation drafting process.”

Lenay Ruhl

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