Pennsylvania allows for the legal use of medical marijuana for over 600,000 people as of early 2021, despite their current restrictions on the severe conditions that qualify a patient. Yet all 600,000 people must currently rely on a limited number of dispensaries to keep them supplied.
Unlike most other states that allow for medical use, Pennsylvania banned home cultivation at any scale with their original bill. This was widely criticized since even allowing the cultivation of a small number of plants helps both patients and their caretakers. Most states that have enacted even the strictest medical marijuana programs allow for some kind of home cultivation, but Pennsylvania is only now considering it.
A bipartisan effort between Senator Sharif Street and Senator Dan Laughlin is soon to bring a bill to the state assembly that would allow for medical patients to cultivate their own supply. With both Republican and Democratic support within the state legislature, it’s surprising that Pennsylvania continues to fail to pass either a home grow or recreational use provision.
Current State of Legalization in Pennsylvania
Medical marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2016, but only a limited number of severe conditions qualify patients for a card. Some of the conditions include:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Any terminal illness
- Neurogenerative disorders and neuropathy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Intractable or medication-resistant seizure conditions.
Since only a small pool of people within the state qualifies to use marijuana, the spread of dispensaries is not equal over the whole state. Most dispensaries in Pennsylvania are clustered around metro areas, while many of the qualified patients are in rural areas instead. Various studies, surveys, and reports released since the legalization of medical marijuana note that home growing provisions could help provide supplies for patients that find it hard to access the limited number of dispensaries.
Previous Attempts for Recreational and Homegrown That Failed
This is far from the first attempt to get Pennsylvania to expand its current marijuana legalization program, and Senator Sharif Street also spearheaded many previous attempts. The latest effort that failed prior to this bill was introduced in June of 2021. It would have allowed for recreational use and home growing for medical patients.
Unfortunately, most of House Bill 1024 was removed before it finally passed. While the modified bill did help loosen up restrictions on caretakers picking up prescriptions and similar issues, it didn’t help with either home growing or recreational use within the state. Another bill for recreational approval introduced in October has only been tabled so far and hasn’t come up for discussion yet.
Concerns Over Access and Equity
In fact, recent data revealed over the course of 2021 showed that over 50,000 registered patients live in a county without a single dispensary. As a relatively rural state, Pennsylvania’s counties can be large and leave residents driving dozens of miles just to reach the closest dispensary. While medical patients in other states have multiple options to shop even in smaller towns, Pennsylvania rural residents sometimes have to drive hours just to find a dispensary carrying a specific strain or product they want to try.
With few legal delivery options and no shipping of marijuana products allowed even within the state, opening up home-growing opportunities is likely the fastest and easiest way to expand access. Patient advocates and state legislators alike are concerned about the social equity of approving a medical treatment for chronically ill or terminal patients and then keeping it from being available to them.
In fact, the problem has been so serious that the state has considered laws that would license existing farms and small businesses to become cultivators. With over 75 new cultivators potentially being sought if the bill passes, it’s clear that demand is beginning to outpace both supply and distribution channels in the state.
Allowing Pennsylvania residents that have already proven themselves to be reliable enough to purchase and use marijuana to grow their own plants only makes sense. Hopefully, separating the home-grow provision into its own bill separate from adult recreational use will make it more likely to pass the state legislature in the 2022 session.