Pa.’s medical marijuana industry nearly tripled in 2019

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry has made $350 million in sales since the state’s first dispensary opened in February 2018, nearly tripling in five months.

John Collins, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Medical Marijuana gave an update on the progress of the state’s program to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory board Wednesday.

Two hundred million dollars’ worth of 4.4 million medical marijuana products were sold to the state’s 200,000 individuals registered to purchase the products, according to Collins. The medical marijuana industry’s total revenue also puts into account $150 million in sales between the state’s growers and processors of medical marijuana to dispensaries.

The last update given on the state’s revenue was on February 2018 after dispensaries began selling the product and in that time total medical marijuana sales grossed at $132 million including sales from dispensaries and growers and processors.

Likewise, the number of registrants have jumped from 116,000 to 200,000. The growth has been attributed to the continued rise in the state’s number of active dispensaries, which have gone from 45 to 60, and a rise in growers and processors from 12 to 18.

On July 20, the state Department of Health approved anxiety disorders and Tourette syndrome to be added to the list of conditions eligible for medical marijuana treatment. Since then, the rate of patients certified to use medical marijuana to treat their anxiety disorders has been particularly fast, growing by a thousand people a week, according to Collins.

“That growth rate makes it fairly comparable with how severe chronic pain rolled out initially,” Collins said, referencing the largest condition treated with medical marijuana in the state with about 50 percent of registrants in the state.

At the end of June, the state also approved a partnership between Penn State College of Medicine and Harrisburg-based grower, processer and dispensary, PA Options for Wellness. PA Options for Wellness was one of three companies to be approved as a clinical registrant for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana research program after the first wave of applications didn’t meet the state’s standards.

The other two registrants included: Agronomed Biologics LLC, affiliated with Drexel University of Medicine in Philadelphia; and MLH Explorations LLC, affiliated with Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that the state Department of Health is hopeful that a third wave of applications set to begin this fall will be more fruitful and allow for all eight centers to begin research.

“Round three will open up sometime this fall for clinical registrants,” Levine said. “We are cautiously optimistic that these clinical registrants will be approved to work with the five other academic clinical research centers.”

The five other centers include Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh and Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Philadelphia.

Is Sunday night the new Monday morning?

For a growing number of workers, Monday morning is coming earlier. And they aren’t happy about it.

A recent national survey said chronic workplace stress is contributing to higher levels of anxiety among workers who often report having these feelings of workplace dread on Sunday nights before the start of the week. –

According to a recent national survey, chronic workplace stress is contributing to higher levels of anxiety among workers who often report having these feelings of workplace dread on Sunday nights before the start of the week.

It’s the downside of a strong labor market.

The tight labor market means higher employee turnover and fewer employees to do the work, thereby increasing stress at short-staffed workplaces. That’s one of the reasons for the reported rise in anxiety many employees feel. Another factor is the notion that some employees feel they need to check emails or do work-related tasks even when they aren’t at work.

What’s an employer to do?

“Communicate,” said Jeanie Sharp, regional manager for Robert Half and Accountemps in the Greater Lehigh Valley and Delaware. “Meet with your team; meet with them on an individual basis to see if they are experiencing this. Encourage them to manage time wisely … so they are not bringing work home with them on the weekends.”

Accountemps, a California-based division of Robert Half International, offers accounting and finance staffing services. It has an office in Hanover Township, Northampton County.


Survey says …

Robert Half undertook a recent survey, conducted by an independent research firm and including responses from more than 2,800 professionals 18 or older and employed in office environments in 28 major U.S. cities.

The survey found:

  • 39 percent of U.S. workers reported having the ‘Sunday Scaries’ – anxiety felt Sunday night before the start of the work week;
  • 44 percent cited heavy workloads/project deadlines as the primary cause of anxiety, followed by having a challenging relationship with their manager (18 percent) and not liking their job duties (17 percent).
  • Workers in some cities reported higher levels of anxiety: Sacramento, Los Angeles, Denver and Cincinnati.
  • Cities with the least levels of anxiety: Nashville, Tampa, Portland, Minneapolis and Boston.


Sharp suggested managers should lead by example and do their best to disconnect on weekends and evenings.

“It’s not always feasible and it’s not always reality,” Sharp said.

For employers, it’s important to look for signs that employees are overworked, such as missed deadlines, working overtime or co-worker drama, Sharp said. Other signs are changes in their relationships with co-workers or managers.

“I think workplace stress and workplace anxiety is a legitimate concern and should be talked about,” Sharp said.

Susan Larkin, vice president of Allied Personnel Services in Allentown, said workplace stress and anxiety is becoming more common, in part due to short staffing.

“Pretty much every business you call now … they need people,” Larkin said. “We are seeing a lot of overtime. I think people are working a lot more in general.”

In the past, workers could take vacations knowing there was enough staff to provide back up and get the work done, but that’s increasingly rare. But there is still pressure on – and stress for – remaining staff.

“A lot of times it’s because they can’t find someone to work that shift and it’s falling onto the employees,” Larkin said.

Larkin doesn’t see Sunday anxiety causing more people to be absent on Mondays. But it can lead to burnout and unhappiness.

“I think people don’t find joy in their jobs anymore,” Larkin said. “High employee turnover affects everybody.”

She described it as “the flipside of the low unemployment rate.”

“I would say this applies across all sectors,” Larkin said, including both white-collar and blue-collar jobs.


What can be done

Tina Hamilton, president of MyHR Partner in Upper Macungie Township, has been in the human resources field for 32 years, and said there are some steps employers can take to mitigate stress.

For example, employers can offer perks to make Mondays a little more appealing, such as free lunch or breakfast but most employers are not going to do that every week, Hamilton said.

Another strategy employers can use is a four-day workweek but it’s an option that’s not realistic for every company, she said.

One of the mistakes employers make is thinking on their own that they know what employees want without asking them directly.

“But if you are going to ask them, you have to respond,” Hamilton said. A helpful question to ask is, ‘what would make your Mondays more pleasant?’

But it also comes down to mindset, which is harder to influence.

“It starts fundamentally with having the type of job people enjoy,” Hamilton said. “An employer, unfortunately, doesn’t have complete control over their attitude.”

Pa. adding two conditions for medical marijuana treatment

Anxiety disorders and Tourette syndrome have been approved by the state as conditions eligible for medical marijuana treatment starting on July 20.

The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory board in February recommended adding the two conditions. They were approved on Thursday by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

The conditions are the first to be added to the list using an application system that allows individuals and physicians to ask the advisory board to consider conditions.

Applicants can request a condition be added or removed by sending the board scientific references and documentation that support or deny the benefits of medical marijuana for patients with the recommended conditions.

If the board approves the application, the documentation is then sent to Levine who reviews it and makes the final decision.

The list already includes conditions such as HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer.

If a condition is on the list, doctors approved by the state’s medical marijuana program can certify a patient diagnosed with the condition to be treated with medical marijuana.

Research into the effects of medical marijuana is kicking into gear.

The state last month approved three entities as so-called clinical registrants, which are partnering with academic institutions to perform clinical trials on the uses of medical marijuana. The registrants will grow, process and distribute the medical marijuana.

The clinical registrants and their academic partners included: Harrisburg-based PA Options for Wellness, affiliated with Penn State College of Medicine; Agronomed Biologics LLC, affiliated with Drexel University of Medicine in Philadelphia; and MLH Explorations LLC, affiliated with Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The clinical trials are expected to provide additional research on the effectiveness of medical marijuana on treating state-approved conditions. If trials show little proof of marijuana’s efficacy in addressing a particular condition, that condition could be removed from the list.

CBD oil is hot. But will it burn out?

Sally Crowe of Shaffer’s Health Center restocks a display of CBD oil products for sale in the Allentown Farmers market shop. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE –

Cannabidiol Oil – or CBD oil as it is commonly called – is hot right now.

People are buying it, selling it and investing in it.

CBD oil is made from hemp plants – whose cultivation was legalized under the 2018 federal farm bill, making the development of CBD-based products easier and less expensive.

The oil is touted as having many curative properties, from relieving anxiety, a claim most people familiar with CBD oil accept as likely true, to more far-reaching claims that it can be used to treat everything from the common cold to cancer. There are even CBD oil-based products for pets.

Overall, the U.S. CBD market could represent a $16 billion opportunity by 2025, according to a recent report by Cowen Inc., a New York-based investment firm.

However, skeptics of the oil’s benefits, and even some of its strongest supporters, sing a familiar refrain when it comes to investing in the CBD boom: “buyer beware.”

CBD Everywhere

CBD oil-based products have been on the market since 2014 through what Geoff Whaling of the National Hemp Association described as a “narrow interpretation” of that year’s federal farm bill, which allowed for limited growing of hemp for experimental testing. The 2018 bill cleared the way for wider farming of hemp, and the use of CBD products made commercial sales more appealing to more traditional retailers.

The products – including vapes, salves, capsules, tinctures and gummies – can now be found on the shelves at a wide variety of retailers, from health food stores to truck stops. CBD shops are even  opening in malls around the nation, while mainstream retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and footwear chain DSW have started selling CBD products.

The Altoona-based Sheetz chain of convenience stores is among them. It has added CBD products to 140 of its 580 locations, including stores in Bethlehem, Harrisburg and York.

“We’re always listening to our customers,” said Brad Campbell, category manager for Sheetz. “As it becomes increasingly popular, we wanted to provide this.”

Campbell said that while the company had been eyeing the sale of CBD products for some time, the changes in the 2018 farm bill helped to legitimize the product.

“I’m not sure getting into this is something we would have considered otherwise,” he said.

No Regulation

Because the market is so relatively new and growing so quickly, sales have been likened to the Wild West, with little regulation or information on how CBD oil products are sold, claims about their benefits and the actual amount of CBD oil in products on the shelves.

Not all products on the market do or contain what they say.

Whaling noted that in 2015 the Food and Drug Administration tested a number of CBD oil products and found that 34 out of 38 contained less CBD oil than they claimed, with many containing little to no CBD oil at all.

Dr. Bruce Nicholson, a pain-management specialist with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, who was involved in helping to craft Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana bill, said similar tests conducted more recently by the University of Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University found that CBD levels in the products they tested were “all over the board.”

Needless to say, he has his reservations about the proliferations of CBD oil products and the claims made on their behalf.

“With something that you get at a trucks stop, you might as well put your money in the lottery,” Nicholson said. “Your odds of a good outcome are about the same.”

Many retailers tend to agree.

Sheetz’s Campbell said the company reviewed a number of CBD-oil products before choosing a handful of brands that the company felt were “strong” while still providing a variety of options.

Tom Crowe, who owns Shaffer’s Health Center in the Allentown Farmers Market, said he has tried a number of brands for his own chronic pain with mixed results.

“There’s so many companies out there that sell it, but 70 to 80 percent of them you’d want to throw in the trash,” he said.

Currently, Crowe said he uses and carries a line of CBD oil products that has greatly relieved his own back and knee pain and won positive feedback from his customers.

He said anyone looking to try CBD oil products should talk to someone with experience rather than just try something they find on a shelf. He notes CBD oil products are on the expensive side. His line ranges in price from $18 for a small bottle of oil to hundreds of dollars for a larger, stronger supply.

Generally, his customers tell him they’re using CBD products for joint pain, inflammation and anxiety. Many have been happy with the results, judging by the repeat sales.

“There’s been a tremendous increase in business,” he said.

Not enough testing

Nicholson’s biggest concern is the lack of testing that has been conducted on CBD-based products, noting that only one actual drug, used to treat epilepsy, has been approved by the FDA.

Everything else he said is mostly speculation.

“There’s a wide spectrum of claims, all of them unsubstantiated,” he said.

Nonetheless, he doesn’t believe the claims lack merit. He said a number of pre-clinical studies in animals have shown CBD oil to be helpful for treating inflammation, some types of pain and anxiety.

He said, anecdotally, he’s seen CBD oil products work on people as effectively as some prescription anti-anxiety medication. He is looking for approval to begin a study into the use of CBD oil.

“The problem is we really don’t understand it. We don’t know how it works,” he said.

He said the FDA has already gone after a number of companies for making false or unsubstantiated claims and is keeping a close eye on the industry.

For Whaling, who is an investor in the hemp industry as well as chairman of the National Hemp Association, he said he has a concern about the “money grab” underway in the CBD oil market.

“It is a money maker right now… but there are reputations at stake,” he said. “It’s a little unnerving to me that there’s so much unknown. People don’t know what they’re selling.”

His fear as an investor is that there is such a rush on CBD oil without proven benefit, the hemp industry will get a bad reputation even as it is just getting off the ground.

Worth investing?

People looking to cash in on the CBD oil craze and invest in one of the growing number of CBD oil-producing companies should proceed with caution, said Nelson.

He said some companies will likely succeed, but he cautions that most of the publicly traded companies – the majority of which are being traded on the Canadian stock exchange – are still operating at a deficit.

He said investing in a CBD oil company now would be like investing in a tech startup during the late 1990s dot-com bubble.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there, but there a lot of disasters waiting to happen,” he said.  “Right now you can’t pick which ones those will be.”