Cannabis cultivation is legal in Erie County but according to the Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 in the State of Pennsylvania, this is limited to marijuana for medical use. To legally grow cannabis, it is necessary to acquire a license from the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s (DOH) Medical Marijuana Program. The law limits the number of medical marijuana grower licenses to be issued across the state to 25.
The medical marijuana grower application has the following requirements:
Total capital of $2 million, fully documented and with $500,000 deposited in a financial institution;
Payment of the $10,000 application fee which is not refundable;
Payment of the $200,000 license fee which will be refunded if the application is rejected;
Documentation of adherence to local laws on zoning;
Documentation of the capability to keep the cultivation facility protected from illegal activities; and
A diversity plan.
As soon as growers receive the license, they are mandated to undergo a training session for two hours.
PA Code 1151.23 states that all medical cannabis must be grown indoors, and only in the locations registered by the licensed medical cannabis cultivators. It is legal for a licensed facility to cultivate, maintain, harvest, and store both mature and young marijuana plants as well as their seeds and flowers. Medical marijuana-related activities, such as loading and unloading from transportation, should always be carried out beyond the sight of the general public.
Security for the entire premises must be kept tight. Signage measuring not smaller than 12 inches by 12 inches must be posted to indicate areas that are restricted, as well as cultivation and non-cultivation zones. Lettering must not be smaller than six inches in height. Any guests accepted into the facility must be accompanied throughout their stay.
Cannabis manufacturing is legal in Erie County but Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 limits this marijuana for medical use. To legally manufacture medical cannabis, a license must be acquired from the state’s Medical Marijuana Program under the DOH. By law, only 25 medical cannabis manufacturing licenses will be issued statewide.
The requirements for applications for medical cannabis manufacturing licenses and grower licenses are the same. If they are successful, license holders must finish a two-hour training course.
According to PA Code 1151.23, all licensed medical marijuana manufacturing facilities must be indoors. Public viewing of any cannabis-related activities is prohibited, including the loading and unloading of items from carriers.
For maintaining the highest level of security in the facility, licensed medical cannabis manufacturers are responsible. Entry is restricted to individuals with authorization, and access to particular areas within the facility has to be controlled. Signage must be clearly posted to identify manufacturing and non-manufacturing areas as well as sectors of the facility that are restricted. The dimensions of the signage must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches, and the letters must be no smaller than six inches tall. Guests, if permitted, should be escorted at all times.
Cannabis retail is legal in Erie County but the Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 of Pennsylvania limits this to the selling of medical marijuana and medical marijuana products by licensed dispensaries to medical marijuana cardholders.
The medical marijuana dispensary license is issued by the DOH’s Medical Marijuana Program and only 50 will be granted throughout the state. Each license carries the authorization to operate up to three dispensary locations. Once approved, dispensary license holders are required to attend a two-hour training program.
The medical cannabis dispensary application has the following requirements:
Total capital amounting to $150,000;
Payment of the $5,000 application fee which is not refundable;
Payment of the $30,000 license fee which will be refunded if the application is rejected;
Documentation of adherence to local laws on zoning;
Documentation of the capability to keep the cultivation facility protected from illegal activities;
A diversity plan; and
A business plan.
Medical cannabis and medical cannabis products, including extracts, oils, tinctures, liquids, tablets, and ointments, among others, may be sold by licensed dispensaries. They are also permitted to sell medicinal cannabis for vaporizing, with the exception of the 600 vaporized cannabis products that are listed on the DOH list of prohibited items. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the substances found in the prohibited goods for inhalation by humans. Medical marijuana cannot be purchased from dispensaries in the form of edibles or for smoking.
Licensed dispensaries are only allowed to provide medical marijuana cardholders with a 30-day supply of medical marijuana at most, in accordance with the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act of 2016, based on the patient's prescriptions. The dispensary is responsible for monitoring and confirming the patient's purchases through the online registry.
However, due to the Covid pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf released a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency on March 6, 2020, resulting in a temporary change in the Medical Marijuana Program that lasted until November 20, 2021. Within that period, the allowed purchase by medical marijuana cardholders from licensed dispensaries was increased to a 90-day supply at a time, still based on their individual prescriptions. Registered patients had to have their certification authority annotated by a state-approved medical professional to avail of this increase.
Cannabis delivery is illegal in Erie County, even for medical marijuana cardholders according to Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2016. It only permits licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to sell and release medical cannabis indoors in their registered facilities.
The curbside dispensing of medical cannabis was only allowed between March 6, 2020, and November 20, 2021, as part of the Medical Marijuana Program's transitional modifications due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The medical marijuana cardholders had to be inside a waiting vehicle parked on the dispensary's property. Dispensary employees were then allowed to bring out their purchases of medical marijuana to them.
To acquire a medical marijuana card, residents of Erie County must be in the Medical Marijuana Program registry. First, they must get a patient identification number (PIN) by registering online. Next, they must choose from among the list of DOH-approved medical practitioners and set an appointment for an examination. There are 36 practitioners from Erie County on the list. The patient is expected to shoulder the cost of the examination if health insurance does not cover it.
The medical practitioner will determine if the patient has any of the qualifying medical conditions for the Medical Marijuana Program. These are:
● Sickle cell anemia
● Severe chronic pain
● Tourette Syndrome
● Parkinson’s Disease
● Opioid Use Disorder
● Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
● Neurodegenerative diseases
● Multiple sclerosis
● Inflammatory bowel disease
● Huntington’s Disease
● Intractable skeletal muscular spasticity
● Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders
● Crohn’s disease
● Central nervous system damage
● Cancer, including cases in remission
● Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
● Terminal illness
If the patient qualifies, the medical practitioner uses the PIN to create a certification of the diagnosis on the online registry. The medical practitioner will also indicate if the patient needs a caregiver.
Patients who are minors are not allowed to purchase medical cannabis, hence, they need a caregiver to make the purchases on their behalf. Certain adult patients also require assistance. Each patient may have a maximum of two caregivers. The Program will do background checks before approving the registration of every caregiver.
The Program will send an email to the patient and the caregivers, if applicable, on how to pay the application fee of $50. Those who are beneficiaries of the following are exempted from the application fee:
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Pennsylvania Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
PACE/PACENET prescription assistance
The patient and caregivers will receive the medical marijuana card by mail in about two weeks.
The purchase of medical marijuana is not subject to sales tax, as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. However, a 5% excise fee is imposed on the entire amount of medical marijuana sales that growers and manufacturers make to dispensaries. The usual taxes that other businesses must pay based on their operations and business models, such as the gross receipts tax, corporate net income tax, personal income tax, and others, are also mandated for all marijuana-related businesses. Another source of state income from marijuana businesses is the licensing fees that medical marijuana growers, manufacturers, and dispensaries are required to pay to the DOH.
One year after February 2018 medical marijuana first went on sale in Pennsylvania, and cannabis sales already reached $132 million. From that, cultivators and manufacturers paid excise duty amounting to $2 million.
The Medicinal Marijuana Act of 2016 in Pennsylvania mandates that all monies derived from medical cannabis taxes and license fees be sent to the Medical Marijuana Program Fund. A total of 55% of these resources will go to the Medical Marijuana Program, of which 40% goes toward operating expenses and outreach programs and 15% goes to the following:
Providing free or significantly discounted medical marijuana, as prescribed, to indigent patients;
Providing free or significantly discounted medical marijuana card registration to indigent patients and caregivers; and
Providing reimbursements for caregiver background check costs.
The DOH research program on medical conditions that can be treatable with cannabis receives 30% of the medical cannabis funds. This may increase the number of ailments that potentially qualify for the Medical Marijuana Program.
The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is the beneficiary of 10% of the funds. This goes to its drug misuse prevention, counseling, and treatment programs. The last 5% is distributed by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to local police agencies for any activity related to the Medical Marijuana Act of 2016. That includes police agencies of Erie County.
According to data reported by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office on the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer page, in 2017, a year before medical cannabis was legalized in Erie County, there were eight arrests for drug abuse violations, of which five were for marijuana possession. In 2019, this increased to 10 arrests for drug abuse violations, all of which were for marijuana possession.
According to the Pennsylvania State Police’s data on the same page, there were 739 DUI arrests in 2017. This decreased to 602 DUI arrests in 2018, the latest available data.