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In 2016, multiple states legalized medical cannabis, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. By 2020, all three states are projected to be in the top tier of medical cannabis markets, with annual sales topping $1.6 billion in Florida alone.

Over the past year, in multiple state programs, legislation has been drafted, rules and regulations have developed, and MM timelines have developed, making patient access for thousands possible. However, Pennsylvania has outpaced its competition, moving quickly and precisely to implement a patient-focused program, even though inking the final legislation was a cumbersome process.

On January 17, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released cultivation and dispensary applications, with a one-month submission window from February 20-March 20.

The condensed timeline was extra motivation for my Dispensary Permits team. Throughout the early months of 2017, we worked tirelessly on multiple applications.

Some of our client meetings began 8 months in advance, while others required a crash course strategy. We even accepted a final client only 6 weeks before the deadline.

By closing day of the submission process, we had successfully carried all of our Pennsylvania clients through the finish line, though at times that finish line didn’t seem tangible or possible.

I put over 1,000 miles on my rental car, criss-crossed the state from east to west, and went three weeks without sleeping in my own bed. Though the days were long during the submission process, in the end, I had an amazingly grateful group of clients.

Pennsylvania differed in many ways from other state application processes. A melting pot of American geography, Pennsylvania isn’t the midwest or the northeast, the mid-atlantic or the south, making its entrance into the industry even more startling and special. A state unto its own, its medical cannabis program has thus far followed suit.

Key Application Components:

  • Dispensary Licenses: 50 in total. Up to 27 licenses to be awarded during Phase 1 (dispensary licensees are permitted up to 3 locations per dispensary license)
  • Grower/Processor Licenses: 25 in total. Up to12 licenses to be awarded during Phase 1
  • No in-state residency requirements for applicants.
  • Many Application questions had a 5,000 word count maximum.
  • Applications were scored on a 1,000-point merit-based scale, with community and diversity sections weighted one of the highest worth 100 points each.
  • Grower/Processor Fees: $210,000 total and proof of $2 million in capital. Refundable fees of $200,000 if not granted permit.
  • Dispensary Fees: Up to $95,000 total ($30,000 per dispensary location) and proof of $150,000 in capital. Refundable fees of up to $90,000 if permit not granted.

Each application will be reviewed under a merit-based, 1000-point scale, and the 5,000 word count maximum per question, ensured quality applications with well-crafted strategies. The 100-point value given to community involvement and diversity is something that we are seeing in other state processes.

The fact that there was no in-state residency requirements, opened the doors to many entrepreneurs throughout the country including current cannabis business owners interested in expansion.

The limited amount of licenses and future market expectations have made Pennsylvania one of the most competitive states in the industry. Estimates are already projecting that Pennsylvania will represent 9.2% of the nation’s $22 billion market. In total, the Pennsylvania Department of Health received 258 applications (as of April 25th, 2017 and still counting) and more than 500 packages.

Right now, we are only in Phase 1 of Pennsylvania’s program, which will disperse 27 dispensary permits (50 in total) and 12 growers/processors permits (25 in total). The state still has not announced plans for Phase 2, but many expect that this will result in further expansion of the state program.

Overall, I have been very impressed with Pennsylvania’s roll out. When the first dispensaries open their doors (spring 2018), a state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board will release a report to the Department of Health with additional recommendations and possibilities of expansion. Already there is a push for a more inclusive list of qualifying conditions, and criticism regarding the restriction on the sale of dry leaf/flower. These are just some of the program components that might see changes in Phase 2.

Perhaps the most inspiring element to Pennsylvania’s approach has been its decision to release temporary regulations with the safe-harbor provision. Unlike other programs that have made young patients wait for access, the Department allowed parents and guardians to obtain recommendations from their children’s doctors for the use of medical marijuana so that they would not be in violation of criminal laws. Already, over 200 applications have been approved for safe-harbor.

Though the program has drawn some criticism, the state has been very pro-active for its patient community. I am thrilled to have been a part of the process, and know that an application win means a whole new phase of business. The future of the industry is bright, and with hard work, due diligence, dedication and passion, the possibilities are endless.

We look forward to announcing our winning clients on or around June 2017, and as a teaser, one in particular is positioned to make history. Details will be released shortly.

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