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The Impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program

The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced in March that in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is taking steps to assist those who require access to medical marijuana.

Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s order, dispensaries and other businesses operating in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry are deemed to be essential, life-sustaining entities that need to remain open to support the Commonwealth’s growing patient-base.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth temporarily suspended certain statutory and regulatory provisions. For starters, dispensary workers are now able to provide medical cannabis to a cardholder in their vehicle located on the facility’s property, thus creating a drive-thru model of sorts.

The shift to the drive-thru dispensary model is fundamentally changing how many card-bearing patients are purchasing medicine. It has resulted in abnormally long lines of cars wrapped around some storefronts, but the advantages seem to outweigh the negatives.

Many of the Pennsylvania dispensaries that have shifted to a business model supporting the drive-thru experience for patient access are seeing the benefits of making the change first-hand.

“What common sense changes can we relax or make that allows patients to get the medicine that they need.” – Lt. Governor John Fetterman

With patients choosing to pre-order their medicine and opting for in-car pickup, both dispensaries and patients are seeing positive results. Check in and check out times are faster and, most importantly, possible exposure to the virus is minimized by avoiding packed waiting rooms or standing in long lines.

The Commonwealth has also waived in-person consultations, meaning patients can consult with approved practitioners remotely for the renewal of certifications.

Lawmakers temporarily removed the cap that limits the number of patients that are allowed to be assigned to one caregiver. This allows caregivers to help more patients in need. Background checks have also been eliminated for caregiver applications (renewals only), in order to expedite the caregiver renewal process.

Finally, the limit that allows for medical cannabis to only be dispensed for 30 days has also been relaxed. Medical cannabis patients are now able to receive as much as a 90-day supply in one visit.

The statutory and regulatory suspensions will remain in place for as long as the Proclamation of Disaster Emergency is in effect.