On April 17, 2016, Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law. The Act decriminalizes the possession of marijuana, when a registered practitioner (a Doctor, who has been approved by the Commonwealth) certifies that it is necessary to treat certain serious medical conditions. At the present time (April, 2017), there are no certified practitioners, and no authorized dispensaries, so as a practical matter, medical marijuana is still unavailable. The Governor’s Blog, indicates that implementation of the program is expected to take between 18 and 24 months.

Federal Marijuana Law

Federal Law, the Controlled Substance Act, classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means that it cannot be prescribed for any medical purpose. Doctors are permitted to “recommend” its use. Possession or distribution of marijuana remains a serious criminal offense under federal law. Under the Obama administration, the federal government had announced that it would not make a priority to prosecute cases where individuals possessed marijuana in compliance with state law; it is not known whether this policy will be continued.

When Can Marijuana be Dispensed?

Marijuana can be dispenses for serious medical conditions, which are defined to include any of the following: (1) Cancer; (2) HIV; (3) Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis); (4) Parkinson’s disease; (5) Multiple sclerosis; (6) Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; (7) Epilepsy; (8) Inflammatory bowel disease; (9) Neuropathies; (10) Huntington’s disease; (11) Crohn’s disease; (12) Post-traumatic stress disorder; (13) Intractable seizures; (14) Glaucoma; (15) Sickle cell anemia; (16) Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective; (17) Autism.

Having one of these diagnoses does not automatically provide a right to receive marijuana; the physician must determine that marijuana treatment is necessary. The Act requires patients to have an identification card, and restricts the types of marijuana to pills; oils; gels, creams or ointments; and a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization. Marijuana may not be dispensed in dry leaf or plant form.

Protections for Medical Marijuana Patients

The Act does include protections against employment discrimination, against an employee who is certified to use medical marijuana, although employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace, and may discipline an employee for being under the influence of medical marijuana in the workplace.

The fact that an individual is certified to use medical marijuana and does so in accordance with the Act is not itself a factor which can be considered by a court in a custody proceeding.

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