State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery) said he expects that medical marijuana will be available in plant form in dispensaries next year. Leach made the comments Friday afternoon during a panel discussion at the World Medical Cannabis Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.
Leach was one of the prime sponsors of SB 3, which legalized medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, and pointed to a section in the bill that authorizes an advisory board to make recommendations by April 2018 about whether to change the permissible forms of the drug.
“But they will, because we’re appointing people to do that,” Leach said as the crowd laughed. “They will recommend that at latest by April 17 (2018), which means when dispensaries open, it is likely that they will have whole plant on their shelves from day one.”
The Department of Health would have the final say on whether to add the smokeable plant form to the program. As written, the law only specifically approves the use of pills, oils, topical treatments and liquids that can be vaporized.
Both Leach and State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin, Lebanon, York), also a prime sponsor of SB 3, said that full legalization of recreational marijuana is inevitable in Pennsylvania.
Folmer said he’s not against legalization, but that he can’t politically advocate for it at the moment, recalling how difficult it was to get enough Republicans on board with the medical marijuana program.
“I’d like to see our first dispensaries up, I’d like to see the first grower/processors going, and I think then, on my side, we’ll see that the sky isn’t going to fall, dogs won’t sleep with cats, and the sun will still set in the West and civilization will not crumble,” Folmer said.
Nearby, in the expo hall, cannabis-related companies of every stripe made their pitches to potential customers. Almost every aspect of the marijuana ecosystem was represented, from growing to production to packaging.
Among them was a company that develops irrigation solutions for growers, people making glass pipes with torches, and a booth with samples of marijuana infused soda in flavors like honeydew melon and grape limeade. Though, the samples at the expo didn’t actually have marijuana in them -- that would be against the law in Pennsylvania.
“This is the first show we’ve done where we’ve actually not been able to hand out CBD samples,” said Keith Carp from Cannabinoid Creations.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is believed to be the pain-relieving compound in marijuana. That’s in contrast to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the part that creates a high.
“As much as THC is great, don’t get me wrong, I like to get high, CBD is the anti-high,” Carp said. “It’s a wellness product.”
But according to Andy Elias, of Quicksilver Scientific, there’s a better way to get CBD or THC into your system. They create products called nutriceuticals which contain microscopic drug particles.
“It’s smaller than the gaps in the tissue of your mouth,” Elias said. “So when you put this stuff under your tongue, it’s like getting an intravenous dose ... it gets in your bloodstream so rapidly.”
Chris Lively with OCO labs is concerned not with getting the drug into your body, but getting it out of the plant. His father-son company - he’s the son - sells what they call the world’s smallest tabletop carbon dioxide extractor.
“You’ll see people with things called dabs, you’ll see topicals and tinctures, and you’ll see things like vaporizer cartridges,” Lively said. “Vaporizer cartridges are a good example in that they’re primarily made with a CO2 process and that’s the kind of product we sell, is a CO2 extraction system.”
And some expo visitors weren't looking at the plant as a drug at all, including Erica McBride with the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council.
She said industrial hemp is defined as cannabis sativa with 0.3 percent THC or less, and her both was filled with all kinds of products, all made from hemp.
There were what McBride called “traditional products,” like textiles and clothing, or soap and beauty products. But they also had some newer, cutting edge hemp-based products, including flooring tiles, insulation, a concrete-like substance called hempcrete and even a skateboard.
“We just want the promote the industry, make people aware of all the myriad products that can be produced with industrial hemp,” she said.
Many of the companies at the cannabis expo are looking to get into the Pennsylvania market, as the state’s medical marijuana program ramps up.
The state health department is currently reviewing applications for growers, processors and dispensaries.
Licenses are expected to be awarded later this year and the medical marijuana program should be up and running in early 2018.