Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has alleviated a lot of pain, but it’s experiencing a growing pain of its own.
Local dispensary executives report inconsistent availability of certain products due to an increase in patients after the state Department of Health approved anxiety disorders as qualifying medical conditions for the program in July.
“There was an influx of patients and the same number of growers,” said Chris Kohan, cofounder of The Healing Center, which has dispensaries in Washington and Monroeville. “That was a red flag to me back then.”
“(P)atients identify certain products or strains they prefer, and they’re not available,” said Corinne Ogrodnik, CEO of Maitri Medicinals, which has dispensaries in Uniontown and the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Maitri staff members have been working with patients to identify different forms or strains that work for them when their preferences aren’t available, Ogrodnik said.
“Product consistency is very important for patients,” Ogrodnik said.
The Department of Health has issued 25 grower/processor permits, but only 20 are operational and just 14 are shipping product, according to Department of Health Press Secretary Nate Wardle. Nine of the 13 grower/processors awarded permits in phase II of the medical marijuana program in July 2018 are operational, according to Wardle.
“We anticipate the remaining grower/processors to become operational in the near future,” Wardle said.
There are currently 76 operational dispensaries, all of which are open for business, according to Wardle.
Kohan and Ogrodnik said that phase II dispensaries increased product demand before phase II grower/processors had opened, also contributing to product shortages.
“There are no widespread shortages of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania,” Wardle said. “However, we know that are patients looking for specific products and strains and those may not be available at all locations. We are continuing to operationalize grower/processors, and the more grower/processors that are operational and shipping product, the more ample supply of product for medical marijuana patients.”
The Healing Center sees between 300 and 600 patients per store per day and plans to open a third dispensary in Cranberry Township in about six weeks.
“When we opened in Washington (in June 2018), if we had 30 patients, it was a good day,” Kohan said.
Close to 160,000 Pennsylvanians have active medical marijuana certifications, Wardle said. That’s about 1.25% of the state’s overall population.
Kohan expects that percentage to climb to between 3 and 3.5% eventually based on his analysis of medical marijuana programs in other states, a prediction which would heighten the need for greater product supply if it comes true.
Kohan said that, despite its growing pain, the state has done a “phenomenal job” in implementing its medical marijuana program, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in April 2016.
Maitri, which was awarded a permit in 2018 to open a grower/processor facility in O’Hara Township that isn’t yet operational, sees between 100 and 125 patients a day at its Uniontown dispensary.
Ogrodnik and Kohan both see product shortages as a temporary issue as more grower/processors open.
Kohan expects the problem to dissipate by the end of September. The Healing Center hasn’t run out of dry leaf, a popular product, since November, according to Kohan.
“We do see this as a problem to go away,” Ogrodnik said.