Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana launch is a marathon not a sprint

By Ellen C. Brotman and Heather Fine

ellen_brotman            heather_fine

Despite the power that social conservatism has played in our politics for the past twenty years, the culture in this country is clearly shifting to a more liberal attitude towards private conduct. The decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is one salutary component of this shift. This year Pennsylvania shifted too and joined 23 other states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico in legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. These welcome developments in the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana will save millions of dollars in wasted law enforcement efforts, at the same time providing the states the ability to regulate and tax the use of a drug with proven medical benefits.

Pennsylvania’s move to legalize the medicinal use of a marijuana means that an effective medication will be available to citizens of the Commonwealth, despite the Federal government’s failure to recognize both the health benefits of marijuana and the absurdity of criminalizing the drug. It will provide a boon to Pennsylvanians and economic benefits to the Commonwealth with sales and use dollars flowing into the Treasury.

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act stands out in terms of authorized uses and the number of permissible dispensaries. Medical marijuana will be legal to treat autism and chronic, otherwise untreatable pain. The authorization to broadly treat pain should be a double boon for the Commonwealth in providing both relief to its citizens and an alternative to the addictive and destructive use of opioids, which has led to a huge spike in the number of individuals addicted to heroin.

On October 29, 2016 the Department of Health jumpstarted the process when it published long awaited temporary regulations for growers and processors. It is no surprise that the temporary regulations are geared towards tightly controlling and securing the use of the drug, from how the drug is grown to how the drug is administered. We anticipate that the oversight of the industry will be vigorous, in the early years especially, and that the Department will be seeking to deter bad conduct through harsh penalties for violations.

Because the regulations provide for heavy monetary sanctions and possible closure of facilities if there is non-compliance with technical requirements, each grower and processor would be wise to have a compliance officer in its corporate structure. A compliance officer creates and enforces an effective compliance program and a code of ethics. The compliance program should have the following features:

  • it should establish and publish clear written procedures and practices for the prevention of wrongdoing;
  • training should done on a regularly scheduled basis; one training session a year should be in person and not by web module;
  • It should provide for internal auditing and monitoring;
  • It should include an anonymous “hotline” that employees and members of the public feel safe using;
  • It should establish internal investigation protocols when wrongdoing is discovered;
  • employees should be evaluated for raises and promotions on their adherence to the compliance program and commitment to the organization’s ethical values.

Most important to a functioning compliance program is that the tone is set at the top of the organization. The leader of the organization must demonstrate his commitment to values and a determination to do the work and bear the cost of maintaining the company’s high ethical and moral ground. Organizations will find this is not only good citizenship, it’s good business.

Ellen C. Brotman and Heather Fine are attorneys at Griesing Law, LLC. The duo run the firm’s Regulated Substances division. Brotman also chairs the firm’s White Collar Crime and Criminal Investigation practice group. Fine chairs the firm’s Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution.


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