Peacock Tales • Fall 2016

Still Lots of Unknows About PA Medical Marijuana

By:  Daniel P. Gustine

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law on April 17, 2016.  The purpose of this Act is to offer another therapy option to alleviate pain for patients who are suffering from one of the 17 qualified medical conditions that the legislature has classified as a “serious medical condition.” Medical marijuana can be used in many different ways; however, the Act provides for two big restrictions. First, medical marijuana cannot be smoked and second, it cannot be used recreationally. While we do know which diseases are covered and what kinds of usage is allowed, there are still a number of unknowns with this Act.

One such unknown is where and when medical marijuana will be made available to patients with serious medical conditions.  The Department of Health stated that it will take at least 18-24 months before the Medical Marijuana Program will be implemented. A person who has qualified for and received a medical marijuana identification card will only be able to obtain medical marijuana from an authorized dispensary.

The Act allows for permits to be issued to no more than 50 dispensaries, which each can have three locations, allowing for up to 150 dispensaries. Because there is a limit on the number of dispensaries, the Department of Health will need to take that into account to ensure that patients with serious medical conditions have access to the medical marijuana.

Another unknown is whether or not a patient’s insurance plan will cover the costs associated with using medical marijuana. The Act states that it shall not be construed to require insurers, whether paid for by the Commonwealth or from private funds, to provide coverage for medical marijuana. Patients who are seeking to use medical marijuana as a treatment option will need to find out from their insurance provider whether they will be paying all of the costs of their treatment out of their own pocket.

One of the biggest unknowns for individuals is how employers will enforce strict drug-free workplace policies.  The Act states that an employer does not have to make any accommodations for using medical marijuana on its property or premises of employment. The Act further states that it will not prevent an employer from disciplining an employee who is under the influence of medical marijuana while at work. Notably, however, the Act provides that an employer cannot discipline or fire an employee solely because they are an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana. It is advisable for employers to have individual conversations with any employee using medical marijuana to manage expectations.

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