Medical cannabis and industry growth

Melinda Rizzo, Contributing Writer//April 8, 2022

Medical cannabis and industry growth

Melinda Rizzo, Contributing Writer//April 8, 2022

Pennsylvania continues to be fertile ground for medical cannabis – or medical marijuana –  and the sector’s continued growth. 


As consumers search for alternative treatments to alleviate chronic pain or deal with serious medical conditions like cancer or Multiple Sclerosis, medical marijuana has become an attractive option. 


“As interest from patients has grown, so has the number of operational dispensaries and grower processors,” said Maggi Barton, Pennsylvania Department of Health deputy press secretary in Harrisburg. 


According to The Philadelphia Inquirer website, medical cannabis sales since the program opened in 2018 have hit $3.4 billion, with “…dispensaries creating $2 billion of those sales.” https://www.inquirer.com/business/weed/medical-marijuana-sales-pennsylvania-20210826.html 


In April 2021, Central Penn Business Journal (a sister publication of Lehigh Valley Business) reported Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis sales during the previous 12 months (2020) tallied about $909.4 million. https://www.cpbj.com/pa-s-medical-marijuana-sales-near-1-billion-12-months/ 


Cannabis industry mergers and acquisitions are booming, too with more than $400 million worth of deals announced last year, according to Washington, D.C. based MJBiz Daily.com https://mjbizdaily.com/cannabis-mergers-and-acquisitions-surge-in-hot-pennsylvania-market/  


Driving those deals is interest by investors, and smaller local operators “cashing out” by selling to larger, multi-state operators, the website said. 


Since the first grower/process started operations in October 2017, more than 33 currently operate across the commonwealth, Barton said. 


Within the first two weeks of the program’s launch, there were 6,000 patient and caregiver registrants, Barton said. 


According to Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Board March 2022 meeting minutes, there are currently more than 740,000 patients and caregivers registered to the program. More than 1,700 approved practitioners are able to certify conditions for medical cannabis treatment. 


“The Department of Health continues to enroll patients and caregivers and receive practitioners’ requests,” Barton said. 


Impressive sales, distribution and consumption of medical marijuana products – from edibles and extracts to flowers, vaping cartridges, topical salves and oral tinctures – allow patients treatment dosing control and formulation flexibility. 


Business Insider.com reported 38 states have legalized medical marijuana, while in 18 states and Washington D.C. marijuana is legal for adults over 21. 



Marijuana, including medical marijuana, remains an illegal Schedule 1 drug in the eyes of the federal government. 


In Pennsylvania, 23 approved serious medical conditions qualify a patient to use medical marijuana, which cannot be obtained without a state issued Patient Card.  


Among the certified conditions approved for medical cannabis treatment are: ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS), nervous system spinal cord damage and Parkinson’s disease. 


Six serious medical conditions have been added to the list since the program began, Barton said. 


Barton listed those additional six medical conditions via email as:  

  • Anxiety disorders. 
  • Dyskinetic (and types of cerebral palsy) and spastic movement disorders. 
  • Neurodegenerative diseases. 
  • Opioid use disorder, for which conventional therapeutic interventions are contraindicated or ineffective, or for which adjunctive therapy is indicated in combination with primary therapeutic interventions. 
  • Terminal illness. 
  • Tourette syndrome. 


As patient interest in medical cannabis as part of their pain or treatment management plan increases, the sector is expected to expand with more operational dispensaries and grower processors opening across the commonwealth, she said. 


Physicians must be registered with the state to offer medical marijuana certifications. Patients must be certified by a registered physician, in order to request at patient card from the state Department of Health. 


A phone interview with a physician for treatment certification can cost about $200. The cost to apply for a medical marijuana card with the state program is $50. Patients must be recertified and apply for a new patient card annually. 


Patient cards are the only way to access medical marijuana dispensaries in the commonwealth, which are secure facilities. 


Certifying physicians may be found through advocacy groups like Sanctuary Wellness based in Chester Springs, which has offices in Allentown. 


PA Brain Doc Medical Marijuana Telemedicine in Pennsylvania, located in Center Valley, also handles patient condition certifications. According to the PA Brain Doc office answering service, appointments may be scheduled over the phone or via email. 

Patients considering medical marijuana as part of their treatment plan should first consult with their primary care physician for an opinion and review of all the medications they currently take.  


Penn State College of Medicine researchers have developed a web-based App aimed at helping pharmacists and health care providers minimize adverse medication interactions between over the counter and prescription drugs, and medical cannabis and CBD products. 


CANNabinoid Drug Interaction Review or CANN-DIR is the name of the free, web-based resource, a Penn State press release said. 


“People may not realize that THC and CBD products have the ability to change the way other drugs are metabolized, and it’s an important conversation for patients and health care providers to have with each other,” said Kent Vrana, a Penn State professor and CANN-DIR project leader. Vrana is chair of the department of pharmacology at Penn State.