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Pa. sets guidelines for medical marijuana from outside state |

Pa. sets guidelines for medical marijuana from outside state

Parents and caregivers of children suffering from epilepsy and other illnesses can seek permission next month to obtain medical marijuana from outside of Pennsylvania, the state health department announced Friday.

Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said temporary guidelines for the so-called safe harbor provision are available for children under 18.

“In July, parents, legal guardians, caregivers, and spouses will be able to apply to the department for a safe harbor letter that will allow them to administer medical marijuana obtained from outside of Pennsylvania to minors in their care,” Murphy said in a statement. “Once approved, the letter should be carried whenever medical marijuana is being transported outside of an individual’s home.”

Still, some medical marijuana supporters called the temporary guidelines vague and worried that they could be subject to federal prosecution by carrying any form of marijuana across state lines.

“It’s a really nice idea, and I applaud the legislators for immediately trying to help the kids, but they didn’t think it through,” said Pittsburgh attorney Patrick Nightingale of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society. “Transporting marijuana across state lines remains a federal offense. Do I see the federal government prosecuting someone with a letter? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

Diana Briggs, whose son Ryan, 16, endures hundreds of seizures a day, agreed.

“It’s exciting that things are moving forward, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to challenge federal law with this safe harbor letter,” said Briggs, who lives in Export, Westmoreland County. “It’s still a very gray area, almost like a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ scenario. The big dilemma is getting it here.”

State health department officials did not rebut the concerns.

“While the safe harbor letter is intended to serve as approval for Pennsylvania parents, legal guardians, caregivers and spouses to possess and administer medical marijuana to minors within their care in the commonwealth, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law,” said Wes Culp, a state health department spokesman. “The U.S. Department of Justice has the authority to enforce civil and criminal federal laws relating to marijuana use and possession.”

Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania on April 17. The complete implementation of the program is expected to take 18 to 24 months and includes setting up dispensaries and laboratories.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at

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