Cannabis cultivation is legal in Lehigh County and all of Pennsylvania but only licensed medical marijuana growers can do so pursuant to the state’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2016. It created the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program implemented by the state’s Department of Health (DOH).
The Pennsylvania Medicinal Marijuana Program of the DOH is the authority that issues medical cannabis growers permits but only 25 of these permits will be issued across the state. Those who can successfully secure a permit must attend a two-hour training program.
The following are the requirements for the medical cannabis grower application:
A non-refundable $10,000 initial fee;
A $200,000 permit fee that is refundable for denied applications;
Total capital of $2 million, with proof and with $500,000 deposited in a financial institution;
Proof of complying with municipal zoning regulations;
Proof of the capacity to secure the growing facility against unauthorized activity; and
A plan for diversity.
PA Code 1151.23 requires registered medical cannabis growing facilities to be indoors. Such a facility can be used to cultivate, harvest and store grown and immature marijuana plants and its seeds and flowers. All activities, including the loading and unloading of cannabis on vehicles, must be kept out of sight of the public.
The entire facility should be totally secured. Entry can only be permitted to approved individuals, and all guests should be escorted at all times. Zones for cultivation and non-cultivation, and areas with limited access must be distinctly delineated by signage. Signs must not be less than 12 inches by 12 inches in dimension and should have letters that measure not less than half an inch high.
Cannabis manufacturing is legal in Lehigh County and all other counties of Pennsylvania but only licensed medical marijuana processors can do so for medical use as mandated by the state’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2016. The DOH Medical Marijuana Program will issue only 25 medical cannabis processors permits statewide.
The requirements for medical cannabis processor applications are the same as those for medical cannabis grower applications. Successful licensees are required to go through a training session for two hours.
PA Code 1151.23 also requires that licensed medical cannabis processing facilities be indoors. All activities involving cannabis, including its loading into or unloading from vehicles, must not be seen by the public.
Licensed processors are held responsible for maintaining the highest level of security throughout the premises. No one except authorized persons can be allowed to enter and access to certain areas within the facility must be controlled. Signs that say so must be put up prominently in processing and non-processing areas and maximum security areas of the facility. Signage is mandated to measure 12 inches by 12 inches or more, with letters measuring half an inch high at the minimum. Whenever guests are admitted, they must have an escort at all times.
Cannabis retail is legal in Lehigh County as well as in the other counties of Pennsylvania, but the state’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 mandates that only licensed medical marijuana dispensaries can sell medical cannabis for medical use.
The DOH Medical Marijuana Program will only issue only 50 medical cannabis dispensary permits across the state. Each licensed dispensary is permitted to have three locations at most. Upon securing a license, licensees must also attend the two-hour training session.
The following are the requirements for the medical cannabis dispensary application:
A non-refundable $5,000 initial fee;
A $30,000 permit fee that is refundable for denied applications;
Total capital of $150,000;
Proof of complying with municipal zoning regulations;
Proof of the capacity to secure the dispensary facility against unauthorized activity;
A business plan; and
A plan for diversity.
Products that dispensaries are allowed to distribute include medical cannabis and medical cannabis products including extracts, tinctures, oils, liquids, cannabis-infused tablets, and topical ointments. They are also permitted to dispense vaporized medical cannabis except for 600 vaporized cannabis products that are on the DOH list of forbidden products. The products in the list contain additives not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human inhalation. Medical marijuana intended for smoking and edibles are not allowed to be sold.
The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 limits the maximum amount of medical cannabis that licensed dispensaries can provide to a medical marijuana cardholder to a 30-day supply based on the patient’s prescription. The dispensary is responsible for tracking and checking the patient’s purchases through the online registry.
Due to the Covid pandemic, however, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency on March 6, 2020. Because of that, a temporary modification of the Medical Marijuana Program was implemented by the DOH, which was extended until November 20, 2021. During that period, licensed dispensaries were allowed to provide medical marijuana cardholders a maximum of a 90-day supply based on their prescription. The cardholder's certification authorization had to first be annotated by a state-approved medical professional, though.
In Lehigh County and in any county in Pennsylvania, cannabis delivery is illegal even for licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. According to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act of 2016, it can only be legal to dispense medical cannabis inside a licensed dispensary.
During the period of temporary modifications to the Medical Marijuana Program from March 6, 2020, until November 20, 2021, however, the dispensing of medical cannabis was allowed curbside. As long as the medical marijuana cardholders were in a waiting vehicle parked on the dispensary's grounds, dispensary employees were allowed to take their medical cannabis purchases out to them.
Lehigh County residents, like residents of all other Pennsylvania counties, are qualified to join the Medical Marijuana Program and be a cardholder if diagnosed with at least one of the following medical conditions:
Sickle cell anemia
Severe chronic pain
Opioid Use Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Inflammatory bowel disease
Intractable skeletal muscular spasticity
Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders
Central nervous system damage
Cancer, even in remission
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Any terminal illness
Applicants must register online first to acquire a patient identification number (PIN). Next, they must choose from the DOH-approved medical practitioner list and arrange for a consultation. In Lehigh County, there are 62 medical practitioners who are DOH-approved. If such a consultation is not covered by the patient’s health insurance, the patient must pay for it.
Once the state-licensed doctor has diagnosed the patient’s medical condition to be one of those in the DOH qualifying list, the physician will certify this on the online registry using the patient’s PIN. The patient must then wait for the email that will provide instructions for paying the $50 application fee. This fee may be waived for beneficiaries of Medicaid; the PACE/PACENET prescription assistance; the Pennsylvania Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). After about 14 days, the medical marijuana card will arrive in the mail.
The medical practitioner may also indicate in the registry the need for up to two caregivers for every patient who is a minor or an adult patient who needs assistance. Caregivers will undergo background checks before the approval of their registration.
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue reports that there is no sales tax on the sales of medical cannabis. There is, however, an excise tax of 5% on gross sales of medical cannabis to dispensaries by growers and processors. Also, all marijuana businesses must pay the usual taxes that other businesses pay according to their activities and business type, such as gross receipts tax, corporate net income tax, personal income tax, and more. Other income from marijuana businesses come from the licensing fees that medical marijuana growers, processors, and dispensaries pay to the DOH.
The legal selling of medical cannabis began in February 2018. One year later, sales already reached $132 million. The excise tax that growers and processors paid on that amounted to $2 million.
Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 requires that all income from medical cannabis taxes and fees be funneled into the Medical Marijuana Program Fund. The Medical Marijuana Program is the beneficiary of 55% of those funds, with 40% to be used for its operating expenses and outreach projects and 15% to be used to support financially needy patients for:
Free medical marijuana as prescribed;
Free or reduced medical marijuana card fees; and
Reimbursements for the cost of background checks for caregivers.
The research program of the DOH on diseases treatable with medical marijuana is the beneficiary of 30% of medical marijuana funds. This can help widen the scope of diseases that qualify for medical marijuana treatment.
Another beneficiary, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, is assigned 10% of medical marijuana funds to be used for its drug abuse treatment services, counseling, and prevention program. The last 5% of medical marijuana funds is distributed by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to local police departments, including that of Lehigh County, for any use in line with the Medical Marijuana Act of 2016.
The sale of medical cannabis was legalized in Pennsylvania, including Lehigh County, beginning February 2018.
According to information reported by the Lehigh County Bureau of Narcotics on the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, in 2017 there were 35 arrests for drug abuse violations, of which 12 arrests were for drug possession and 23 arrests were for drug manufacturing or sales. None of the arrests were for marijuana.
In 2019, the latest available data, arrests for drug abuse violations decreased to 25, of which three arrests were for drug possession and 22 arrests were for drug manufacturing or sales. Again, none of the arrests were for marijuana.
According to information reported by the Pennsylvania State Police regarding Lehigh County on the same website, DUI arrests decreased from 665 in 2017 to 665 in 2018, which is the latest available data.