Medical marijuana patients -- many of whom are immunosuppressed -- won’t have to enter cannabis dispensaries in Pennsylvania to pick up their meds.
Gov. Wolf has temporarily suspended regulations that require all dispensing to occur inside a dispensary. Patients may now go to a cannabis retailer and have their product brought to their cars by a budtender.
Alternatively, approved caregivers now may deliver medical marijuana to an unlimited number of patients.
Wolf has the power to change the regulations under the Proclamation of Disaster Emergency issued on March 6 in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. The suspension of the marijuana regulations will continue for as long as the emergency proclamation is in effect.
In a related development, sales of medical marijuana spiked more than 20% nationwide last week to an all-time high, analysts said, as patients flocked to dispensaries fearing that they would not be able to buy their cannabis in the event of a lockdown.
In Bellmawr, N.J., on Tuesday, municipal police said more than 100 card-carrying patients were already in line at 6 a.m. at the Curaleaf dispensary. The queue later grew to 200 people and snaked around the building, said Chief William Walsh. Some of those customers -- including cancer patients -- waited three hours to pick up their medications.
“They were hit unexpectedly,” Walsh said. “People were parking wherever they could and not always legally.”
Marijuana dispensaries in Pennsylvania were deemed “essential businesses,” akin to a pharmacy, under a edict issued earlier this week.
“With the current situation with the virus, this allows patients to pick up their medicines in the parking lot without having to interact with many other people,” said patient advocate Luke Schultz. “It’s important especially because so many have compromised immune systems or are not in the best of health.”
Physicians in Pennsylvania can recommend medical marijuana to their patients to treat nearly two dozen serious ailments, including cancer, chronic pain, and anxiety.
The governor also relaxed regulations limiting the number of a patients that a caregiver can serve. There was no maximum number of patients listed in the state’s notice.
Relaxing that provision essentially makes home delivery possible for all Pennsylvania patients.
“These changes will save lives, and we can all be proud of that," said State Sen. Daylin Leach, (D-Montgomery), who has been agitating for the health department to allow home delivery since early this month.
In addition, caregivers will no longer require background checks to renew their state-issued cards and renewing patients no longer have to visit their recommending doctors in person to renew their certifications. Physicians will be allowed to recommend up to a 90-day supply.
Since the beginning of the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania, the state has required that each patient enter a dispensary to buy and retrieve cannabis medicines.
“This allows us to have a low- to no-contact service that will increase social distancing and lower the chance of COVID-19 spreading," said Mike Badey, CEO of Keystone Shops, a dispensary chain with outlets in South Philadelphia, King of Prussia, and Devon.
Badey said Keystone Shop dispensaries will put some equipment in place to provide parking lot delivery by late Sunday.
Badey said he had asked the health department on March 9 for pickup service and home delivery.
“We asked for the moon, and though we didn’t get the moon, we’re happy with the result,” Badey said.
Patients can use online ordering to speed up the dispensing process at most dispensaries.
Under the relaxed regulations, the Department of Health will allow dispensary employees to go out to a patient or caregiver vehicle, retrieve the necessary identification cards, go back inside to dispense the product, and deliver to the vehicle.
In all cases, the vehicle must be located within the property line boundaries of the dispensary.
“We’re really grateful to the governor and Department of Health,” said Chris Visco, CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers in suburban Philadelphia. “This allows us to treat our most vulnerable patients.”