The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn

If bill passes, who will oversee medical marijuana dispensers?

If Senate Bill 3 were to pass tomorrow, Pennsylvania would be the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana. Part of the debate over legalization, of course, has turned on the nature of the substance and the difference between it and recreational marijuana. In particular, advocates object to the Drug Enforcement Administration's classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug -- a drug without a currently accepted medical use, lacking research to support medically supervised use and having a "high potential for abuse" -- right alongside heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.

For lawmakers, the question has been how to regulate this drug that the DEA says has no medical use but that practitioners say can really help patients with certain conditions. Pharmacists can dispense more "dangerous" drugs -- according to both state and federal regulations-- that do have an accepted medical use, including oxycodone and morphine. Should medical marijuana be added to the pharmacist's shelves?

The State Board of Pharmacy is responsible for a number of things, including licensing pharmacists and pharmacies. Like the Board of Medicine, the Pharmacy Board is charged with developing and maintaining practice standards and licensure requirements as well as imposing sanctions against pharmacists and pharmacies that violate state law. There are other duties, but we want to focus on these right now.

The board will not be responsible for the licensure of producers, processors or dispensers of medical marijuana. SB3 would create a Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing under the direction of the Department of State, with the medical, dental and other professional boards. Members of the medical profession, including registered nurses and one licensed pharmacist, are among the board's members.

This board has broader responsibilities than the Pharmacy Board. This board licenses and oversees the activities of more than just dispensers: It is also responsible for medical cannabis growers and processors as well.

In fact, SB 3 would require the board to lay the foundation for the entire medical marijuana regulatory program. It would be starting from scratch, while other boards build on work that, in some cases, was initiated a century or more ago. Perhaps the sheer volume of tasks assigned to the board accounts for the reluctance of the bill's authors to put this all on an existing board's plate.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the bill, if SB 3 passes, there will be a new board for medical professionals to keep track of.

Source: General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, " Medical Cannabis Act - Senate Appropriations Committee Fiscal Note," prepared May 5, 2015

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