Medical Marijuana and Pennsylvania Drug Charges: What You Need to Know

Medical Marijuana and Pen…

The Pennsylvania legislature approved the use of medical marijuana in 2016, but at the start of 2020 the state’s medical marijuana laws are still more restrictive than others around the country. Find out what patients and caregivers should know about the law and how it interacts with Pennsylvania drug charges.

Marijuana Use Approved for Specific Medical Diagnoses Only

Researchers and scientists are investigating the use of medical marijuana for everything from epilepsy to chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that just anyone can light up a joint. In October 2019, Senators Daylin Leach and Sharif Street introduced a recreational marijuana law to the state legislature, but as of the writing of this post, that bill was still in the earliest stages of consideration.

Instead, Pennsylvania law says that marijuana use is authorized only for the treatment of 23 specific medical diagnoses:

  1. Anxiety disorders
  2. Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)
  3. Autism
  4. Cancer
  5. Crohn’s Disease
  6. Spinal nerve damage (intractable neurological spasticity)
  7. Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders
  8. Epilepsy
  9. Glaucoma
  10. HIV and AIDS
  11. Huntington’s Disease
  12. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
  13. Intractable seizures
  14. Multiple Sclerosis
  15. Neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease
  16. Neuropathies (nerve damage)
  17. Opioid Use Disorder (as a treatment of last resort)
  18. Parkinson’s Disease
  19. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  20. Severe chronic or intractable pain (where conventional treatment is ineffective)
  21. Sickle Cell Anemia
  22. Terminal Illness
  23. Tourette Syndrome

Having a Qualifying Disorder is Not a Defense to Marijuana Possession

Medical marijuana may have become an approved treatment for a number of disorders, but you have to do more than just get a prescription from your doctor before you buy your medicine. Possession of marijuana, even in small doses for medical purposes, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine (larger quantities carry higher penalties). Before patients can possess or use marijuana without fear of prosecution, they must:

  • Create a profile in the Medical Marijuana Registry
  • Get certified by an approved physician (who will submit their certification directly into the system)
  • Designate up to 2 caregivers to assist them (children must have at least one caregiver)
  • Have each caregiver register and complete a background check
  • Pay for an ID card (currently a $50 fee). Patients with Medicaid, PACE/PACENET, CHIP, SNAP, or WIC may qualify for a reduced fee.
  • Receive their medical marijuna ID card (caregivers get their own cards)
  • Purchase their medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary (or have their caregiver get it for them)

Even Medical Marijuana Patients Can’t Smoke Their Medicine

Another way that Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law is more restrictive than some others is that it restricts the way patients may take their medicine. When originally passed in 2016, the law only included cannabis oils, pills, creams, and tinctures. Dry leaves and flowers were still illegal. However, these preparations of the medicine often resulted in higher concentrations than some patients required.

More recently, dry leaves and flowers have been approved for use as well. However, the law still explicitly prohibits smoking. While patients may now vaporize their medicine and inhale it that way, if they light up, they could face controlled substance charges just like if they were not registered in the system.

It Is Still Illegal to Grow Your Own Medical Marijuana

Patient or not, caregiver or not, Pennsylvania law does not protect you against drug cultivation charges if you are caught growing your own cannabis plants. In some other states Medical marijuana users can choose to set up their own grow operations. However, under Pennsylvania law, all medical marijuana must be purchased from a licensed dispensary. If you raise the plants on your farm or try to grow them in your basement, you could be charged with a felony punishable by up to 2.5 to 5 years in prison and $15,000 in fines. In addition, the tools you use to grow your own marijuana plants can be considered drug paraphernalia, and the prosecutor may choose to add on misdemeanor charges with a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and $2,500 in fines.

Medical marijuana can be very therapeutic for patients with particular medical diagnoses. However, unless you carefully follow the rules and procedures set out by the law, you could still end up facing criminal drug charges. At Berman & Associates, our experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to help you get the most out of state protections for medical use of marijuana. We will help you understand the law and its limitations, and build a defense to fight against drug convictions that could threaten your future use of the medicine. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your criminal case.

Categories: Criminal Law