Thursday, May 12, 2016


To more effectively develop and administer the medical marijuana (mmj) program, the PA Department of Health is currently recruiting to hire a Director for the newly formed Bureau of Medical Marijuana. The person in this position will “build and oversee this new program”. You can read the job description for specific information on the position at this link.

Something to note in the job description is the repeated reference to working with and considering the needs of patients, caregivers and other supporters. By design, things are being set up to be transparent and to keep the patients and advocates in the loop and part of the process. To do our part to help establish the best program we need to stay current on developments in the process and offer our advice and assistant where possible. As things move forward, networks will be put in place by the Director to allow for comments, to offer testimony and otherwise get involved.

Though it will take some time to hire the Director and get them settled in, that does not mean that nothing happens until then. Currently a team from the Governor's office is coordinating the development of the mmj program with the help and guidance of a newly hired consultant who has experience setting up a state mmj program. They are working on the timeline for the roll-out of the temporary regulations and reviewing the best practices from other states. They are also seeking and getting input from a number of concerned parties.

Finally, remember that we are truly blessed to be working with the Wolf administration, which has always been extremely supportive.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Safe Harbor

The “safe harbor” provision of the PA Medical Marijuana law (PA Act 16) is a confusing and mostly unworkable option for patients eager to access medical marijuana (MMJ) in PA. Like many things in government, it sounds good until you look at the details. You'll notice the use of vague terms like “possibly”, “anticipated” and “could” in this blog. That is because there are many unknowns at this point. The regulations for how the program will work have not been established and legal and other challenges to the law (and program) that could add clarity or set precedence have not yet occurred.

The safe harbor provision from PA Act 16 (the medical marijuana law):
“It is not a violation of this act (or PL233 No64, known as the Pennsylvania Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act), if a parent or guardian of a minor under 18 years of age lawfully obtains medical marijuana from another state, territory of the U.S. or any other country to be administered to the minor.”

This provision goes into effect on May 17. It is anticipated that a similar provision will be authorized for all patients in the temporary regulations, which are to be completed within six months.

Safe harbor is pretty much unworkable (especially in a legal sense) in that you cannot obtain an MMJ product from another state and transport or ship it to PA without crossing state lines and violating federal law (and possibly other state laws). You would also have to be in compliance with the intent of the rest of Act 16 for this provision to apply – i.e. you would have to be using it for a qualifying medical condition and in a form identified in the law, etc.

Even so, you could still be arrested and prosecuted for pursuing this option in PA. If you pursue the safe harbor option, understand what you are doing and that there is risk involved - legal risk and making sure you are getting what you think you are getting (product quality, purity, etc). Some may see those risks as minimal and pursue this option, while others will be unwilling to do so.

The benefit of the safe harbor provision is that you could possibly use it as a defense in court - but that doesn't guarantee that you will be successful. As we stated before: we advise you to consult an attorney and your doctor before you pursue this option.

If you don't want to use the provision, or you don't understand the risks, then you'd be advised to wait until the program is better established, which could take a number of months, or fully implemented (estimated to be around two years). The process of establishing the program will probably occur in stages rather than on a single date. For example, MMJ access cards for patients will probably be available before the first dispensary is open. Having an access card could help you obtain an MMJ product in an MMJ state that allows sales to out-of-state patients (reciprocity). This would make obtaining a MMJ product through the safe harbor provision easier, but you'd still have the legal issue of transporting the product back to PA.

The safe harbor provision was included in the bill to make the Legislators look like they did something to allow for some form of access and/or protection for patients before the program is fully implemented. It is not practical and nothing the Governor or Legislators can tell you will change that at this point. What they could do at this point to help the patients in PA is to decriminalize marijuana state-wide for possession of small amounts (ex. $25 fine for possession of up to 30 grams of plant material). This would immediately reduce the legal risks not only for patients who would qualify under the Act 16, but also those with symptoms and conditions not covered in the law. Patients and patient advocates should push for this with their PA Senators and Representatives now. There are decriminalization bills currently being worked on and introduced in the Legislature.

The PA Department of Health, which is responsible for establishing and administering the MMJ program is working hard to get it up and running, but there will surely be some snags along the way. We can all help this process by staying informed and informing others.

One group in particular that needs to be educated and informed is the medical community. They also need to be part of the process and the program to make it all work. IF THE DOCTORS ARE NOT ON BOARD WE WON'T HAVE MMJ IN PA!! Everyone needs to have conversations with ALL of their doctors and other medical professionals to help them understand how the program works, their roll in the program and that the patients in PA need their participation.

There is still much work to be done before patients and caregivers can walk into a dispensary to obtain MMJ products. Stay informed and stay engaged to help make this work. Thanks...

~Campaign for Compassion Team

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Expressions of Gratitude: Pastor Shawn: “I’m There!”

When Matt and I initially started researching how Annie could benefit from medical cannabis to manage her epilepsy, we “broke the news” to our family, not sure how anyone would respond. Everyone was super supportive. The more “in-depth” and public our advocacy became, we felt we should inform our pastor, Shawn Berkebile, what we were pursuing. We belong to a small, conservative congregation in Adams County and just wanted to be up front with him, as we would be involving press and media along the way. I can’t exactly recall how the initial conversation went…whether it was in person or over the phone…but what I DO know, is that he was also supportive…immediately. We were blessed to have his support, as well as the congregation at St. John’s Lutheran Church standing with us.

In the beginning, there were phone calls, press conferences, post cards and a local town hall informational session on medical cannabis, which over 200 people attended. We asked him to speak publicly on our behalf, and after some reflection and prayer, his response was, “I’m There!” And from that point, he was by our side every step of the way. He became, as he would say, “a voice for the voiceless.” Joining us in Harrisburg on countless occasions, boldly speaking out at press conferences and accompanying us in some pretty heated meetings with legislators was becoming a regular thing for him. Over time, his response, when being made aware of upcoming events was always, “I’m There!” followed by, “What do you need me to do?”

He was “there” to do whatever was needed…show support, speak or go door to door helping to educate legislators. And he wasn’t just “there” for Matt and I. He came to know many of the families, patients and advocates quite well…some that even lived in his own district. P. Shawn, as Campaign for Compassion sometimes referred to him as, was a force to be reckoned with during meetings and was also a comfort to so many, especially on the days where we all just needed a friendly word of encouragement, in a sometimes, hostile environment. We all took comfort in a conservative pastor saying, “I’m there…I got your back on this.”

Shawn took a leadership role and worked tirelessly with fellow advocates to pull together a clergy event at the Capitol to demonstrate that he was not alone in his support and compassion for the voiceless. With the help of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a new website was launched on the heels of a very successful multi faith press conference entitled, “Clergy for Compassion.” Shawn and fellow faith leaders across the state continue to astound us in number, support and passion for Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable.

Shawn was able to be present the day of the final passage in the House, as well as the signing ceremony, enabling him to see the hard work of so many across the commonwealth come to fruition. The Sunday of the bill signing, which began at 1:00 pm, he jumped in his car immediately after church, to ensure he had time to travel to the capitol, as his favorite saying, “I’m There”, stayed true till the very end.

We would like to thank Pastor Shawn for being so open-minded from the beginning and taking a chance on joining a very compassionate, and sometimes crazy, group of advocates. He was “there” with us through the good, the bad and the ugly. His support and guidance never wavered…not once. Pastor Shawn…you’re the best.

Much love and respect,

Angie and Matt Sharrer and the team at Campaign for Compassion