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Pa. says yes to dry leaf medical marijuana starting this summer Featured

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Pa. says yes to dry leaf medical marijuana starting this summer

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Monday said she will approve the state's medical marijuana advisory board's recommendation to permit sale of the dry leaf or plant form for patients with a qualifying medical condition.

She will also allow access to medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid abuse.

Allowing access to the plant -- rather than a processed form of the plant -- is seen as a way to provide a lower-cost option that also may be more effective in treating some medical conditions. 

It should prove a boon to both cultivators and dispensary operators as well, boosting the already robust demand for product.

Because Pennsylvania's law prohibits smoking medical marijuana or using it in edible form, the plant would be legally consumed in vaporization form. But, once the plant is purchased and taken home, it's unclear how that rule would be policed.

In addition to including marijuana flower to the menu of options, Dr. Levine also approved board recommendations to allow physicians to participate in the program certifying patients while not having their names listed on the public registry. That's a change Dr. Levine said is designed to encourage more physicians to participate. 

The advisory board last week released recommendations on 21 proposed changes to Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, signaling its approval on all but one that would limit a practitioner's ability to specify the form and dose of medical marijuana a patient should get.

Two other proposals barely passed, with six of the 12 voting board members in favor and at least one abstaining.

One recommended a one-year default time period on patient certifications. The other recommended adding use of medical marijuana as a substitute for treating opioid addiction -- making Pennsylvania possibly the first state program to allow that use.

The Pa. counties where police have most used the overdose antidote Narcan (MAP)

Internist Sue Sisley, president of the Scottsdale, Arizona, Research Institute and lead investigator studying the use of cannabis for treating post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans, applauded the opioid decision.

She said in an email Monday, "It's always hard to be the first state to do anything especially related to the word cannabis which is so politically radioactive."

She said that while some will criticize the decision, "Dr. Levine is responding to our governments' recognition that this [opioid use] is a true public health emergency" and "no reasonable solution should be left off the table to prevent these opioid overdose deaths."

In February, Ms. Sisley had urged the advisory board to allow patients' access to the raw flower, saying it has greater therapeutic effect than other forms and also dosages can be better controlled. 

To date, 30,413 people in Pennsylvania have registered for the medical marijuana program with nearly 12,000 certified patients having purchased identification cards that allow them to buy products at state-approved dispensaries.

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