Cannabis operators, like all other businesses, are searching for new ways to reach their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis businesses have been generally treated as “essential” under the various state orders that have otherwise closed businesses and ordered people to stay at home. Even though they have been permitted to operate, it is not business-as-usual for these operators as they grapple with CDC workplace restrictions and guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19.
As a result of these restrictions, state regulators and cannabis business have begun implementing new policies and procedures such as curbside pick-up, expanded delivery zones and increased use of contactless payment methods. While these changes are viewed as temporary, if properly implemented, cannabis businesses may be able to show regulators that these expanded policies should continue after the crisis has passed. This difficult time presents an opportunity for cannabis retailers to expand their reach and help bolster support for more online ordering, home delivery and other delivery methods.
On April 5, 2018, Phase 2 of the PA Department of Health’s permitting for commercial medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary operations will begin.
13 Grower/Processor permits will be available, two in each of the six DOH regions, and the 13th going to the highest scorer. 23 Dispensary permits will be available, nine in Region 1, three in Regions 2 and 3, two in Regions 4 and 6, and four in Region 5. Applications will be available online at www.medicalmarijuana.pa.gov on April 5, and the submission deadline will be May 17.
In June 2017, 12 Grower/Processor and 27 Dispensary permits were granted. According to April Hutcheson of DOH:
25,573 patients have registered to participate in the PA program;
9,020 patient certifications have issued;
7,000 of those patients have purchased their ID cards;
6,683 patients have bought medical marijuana in a PA dispensary;
866 physicians have been registered to participate in the program; and
473 of the registered physicians have been approved.
Given the very real possibility that PA will approve the use of dry flower products, i.e., smoking and edibles, this summer, the PA market is positioned for strong performance over the next few years.
The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act uniquely provides for a special class of licenses for growers and dispensaries to partner with medical schools to undertake real clinical research on medical marijuana.
On January 3, 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) published for comment the final clinical registrant regulations. The process of issuing these licenses will be underway shortly. While other states are focused on increasing the availability of nonmedical adult-use marijuana, Pennsylvania seeks to become the leader in clinical research on the medical benefits of cannabis.
Duane Morris’ Seth Goldberg was quoted in the Philadelphia Business Journal on the opportunities and risk facing entrepreneurs in the development medical marijuana industry in Pennsylvania.
While the upfront costs to entrepreneurs wanting to enter the market are expected to run into the millions of dollars, the payoff could be substantial. The ArcView Group, a market research firm that studies the cannabis industry, estimates the Pennsylvania medical marijuana market will start out with annual sales at about $125 million and grow at a rate of about 180 percent per year in the program’s first few years.
“There will also be huge opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to create ancillary businesses that are integral to the core growing and dispensing businesses,” said Seth Goldberg, a Philadelphia attorney with Duane Morris who specializes in commercial and health care matters.
On January 26, 2015, in a bipartisan effort, Pennsylvania senators Mike Folmer (R) and Daylin Leach (D) reintroduced to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania a bill (Senate Bill No. 3) providing for the medical use of cannabis in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Senate Bill No. 3 comprises a comprehensive set of regulations that include (1) licensing and administrative procedures for growers, processors, dispensers, patients and health care professionals; (2) enforcement and penalties; and (3) fees and surcharges.
Recent comments by Pennsylvania’s newly inaugurated Governor, Tom Wolf, and last year’s passage by the PA Senate of a similar bill (Senate Bill No. 1182) by a 43-7 vote, suggest that Pennsylvania may be one of the states (the recent trend suggests there will be others) that enacts Medical Marijuana legislation in 2015. As Governor Wolf stated on the same day that Senate Bill No. 3 was introduced, “I commend the bipartisan effort to allow Pennsylvania doctors to prescribe medical marijuana… We should not deny a physician’s ability to recommend medical marijuana treatment for Pennsylvanians suffering from seizures, those affected by PTSD, cancer patients affected by chemotherapy, and Pennsylvanians suffering from many other ailments and conditions that could benefit from this effective, doctor-prescribed treatment.”