Advocates, patients ask Legislature to ‘fix’ Pa.’s medical marijuana program

    George Armstrong, a veteran and medical marijuana recipient shares his experiences. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

    Patients and their advocates called on the Legislature Wednesday to “fix” the state’s medical marijuana system by, among other things, authorizing a patient bill of rights and by capping prices.

    During a Capitol rally Wednesday, the Lehigh Valley chapter of Norml, a national organization for the reform of marijuana laws, also called on lawmakers to take marijuana off the state’s list of banned substances, a move that it said would ease anxieties for medical cannabis users. 

    George Armstrong, a veteran and medical marijuana recipient said, “I’m grateful for the program, but we have a lot of problems.”

    Armstrong pointed to access and affordability as being his primary issues with the current medical marijuana laws.

    Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program experienced a shortage of dry flower product in late September. Armstrong said that for two weeks, he did not have his medicine because the dispensary ran out.

    That shortage led many patients, including Armstrong, back to purchasing black-market marijuana, which comes with its own risks because it is not regulated and is still illegal in Pennsylvania.

    “Not only do I have to worry about being arrested for getting my medicine,” Armstrong said, “I have to worry about getting sick.”

    The short supply of medicinal marijuana isn’t the only thing pushing desperate patients back into the hands of black-market growers.

    The cost of medical marijuana has not been capped in Pennsylvania, meaning prices can vary from dispensary to dispensary.

    Because marijuana is still an illegal substance at the federal level, health insurance companies will not help with that cost.

    Lehigh Valley Norml Executive Director Jeff Riedy said that approximately 150,000 Pennsylvanians are registered for the medical marijuana program, which began in 2016 when Gov. Tom Wolf signed the medical use of cannabis into law.

    Since then, the state has open 76 dispensaries, 75 of which are open for medical marijuana patients to purchase products and raked in $524 million in medical marijuana sales.

    In 2018, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman set out on a 67-county tour of the state to find out if there was support for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

    Fetterman returned from his tour saying that “A significant majority in Pa. wants the right to responsibly consume legal, pure, regulated and taxed cannabis. A super majority in Pa. wants to decriminalize cannabis, mass expungements and removed from Schedule 1.”

    In addition to hearing broad support for recreational marijuana legislation, Fetterman said he heard “virtually unanimous support for the established medical marijuana program.”

    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.