Medical marijuana sales in Pennsylvania topped more than $900 million over one year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and could soon see $3 billion in total sales with just a few operating years under its belt.
According to figures provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, sales from growers/producers to dispensaries have reached almost $1.2 billion and sales from dispensaries to patients have crested $1.7 billion.
An April report from cannabis industry data analytics firm Headset Insights found Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis sales brought in $909.4 million between April 2020 and March 2021, and those figures are only expected to grow.
As of June 3, DOH reports that 548,468 patients are registered with 349,272 active certifications. Nearly 181,000 patients were dispensed 525,232 medical marijuana products this week alone, generating $28.3 million in dispensary sales, according to DOH figures.
With the opening of the Healing Research Center at Second and Norris streets in Chester last month, Delaware County now has three of the 121 operating dispensaries in the state for consumers to visit. The others are Verilife, at 875 Upland Ave. in Chester, and Curaleaf (formerly Herbology) at 409 Baltimore Pike in Morton.
Matt Darin, president of the Central Region at Curaleaf, said third-quarter financials for 2020 nationwide showed revenues growing 172% from the prior year period, outpacing market growth.
“Flower continues to dominate the market in Pennsylvania, and we’re proud of the flower that we’ve grown in the state,” said Darin. “(Rick Simpson Oil) and capsules are also in high demand. Notably, we launched Select across Pennsylvania this year, and our Select Elite Live vape pens have continued to be a favorite among patients.”
Darin noted the company opened two new dispensaries this year in Horsham and Philadelphia, and rebranded its other ten stores from “Herbology” to “Curaleaf.”
“We expect to see this continued growth in the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, especially as more states such as Pennsylvania roll out adult-use programs and our investment in our cultivation capacity comes online,” he said.
Delco is also home to one of 30 operational grower/processors in the state with Agri-Kind Inc., located about a block from the Healing Research Center, and the state could be poised to join the ranks of 17 other states and territories that have already legalized recreational use for adults.
Jon Cohn, CEO of Agri-Kind Inc., an offshoot of Agronomed Pharmaceuticals in Exton, said the new pharmacy is a joint venture between the two companies. Agri-Kind also recently completed an expansion of its growing facility that has quadrupled the canopy, or area under lighting, Cohn said. The company was able to drastically increase its yields by about 30 percent month-over-month during the pandemic, which helped keep up with growing demand.
“For the first time in a long time – it might be forever in the PA cannabis market – supply might be finally catching up with demand,” said Cohn. “How long product is actually sitting on the shelf, they’re definitely staying longer, and you’re seeing a little less product with each order, and there’s definitely more selection in the dispensaries now, so it’s definitely beneficial to the patients.”
Two state senators, Dan Laughlin, R-49 of Erie County, and Sharif Street, D-3 of Philadelphia, introduced a measure in February to amend the state’s 2016 medical marijuana legislation and allow for recreational use by those 21 years and older.
Street and other Democrats have introduced similar legislation in the past, but this was the first bipartisan proposal seen in state government and would effectively end Pennsylvania’s prohibition on personal use by allowing residents to possess 30 grams of cannabis flower and medical marijuana participants to grow up to five plants. Those serving jail time for nonviolent marijuana offenses could also be released and convictions for low-level marijuana offenses could be expunged under the proposal.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, seen as the Democratic frontrunner in the 2022 gubernatorial election, said at a Delco event this week that the expungement component would be a deciding factor for him if he takes the helm from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf next year.
“I’ve been a supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana, regulating it, taxing it, so long as – and this is deal breaker for me – if the bill does not have a criminal justice reform component to it, I would not support it,” said Shapiro. “It must have expungement for people who are either in jail or who have served their time for possessing small amounts of marijuana. We’ve seen for too long our Black and brown communities disproportionately impacted in these marijuana cases.”
A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 59 percent of respondents support legalization, a figure that has remained steady in polling since September 2017. Proponents of legalization point to creating jobs, reducing police work for low-level offenses so officers can focus elsewhere and reaping tax benefits among the chief benefits. The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office has projected between $400 million and $1 billion in new tax revenues if such a measure passes.
Laughlin’s support signals that Republicans in the General Assembly may be coming around on the idea, but both houses are still under GOP control and leaders there have previously signaled that it is not a legislative priority.
Despite neighboring states going recreational – most recently New Jersey, which could begin sales as soon as early 2022 – Republicans note marijuana remains a “Schedule I” drug as far as the federal government is concerned. Pennsylvania may then move more toward “decriminalization,” as some local municipalities and Delaware County Council have enacted, rather than full legalization any time soon.
“I certainly don’t believe we should be putting people in jail for marijuana and I’m not opposed to discussing its decriminalization,” said state Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown. “As the fact remains that marijuana is a federal Schedule I drug, advocates for full legalization should really focus their efforts on federal lawmakers and the new administration.”
State Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-161 of Nether Providence, noted the state House did recently approve some amendments to the 2016 medical marijuana legislation that has now gone on to the state Senate, but said she is not expecting any move toward full legalization anytime soon.
“If it moves, I think it is likely to be based on (the Street and Laughlin) Senate bills and not necessarily anything coming out of the House,” she said. “But with New Jersey now coming online, I think it will happen eventually in Pennsylvania. I just don’t think there are enough votes to pass legislation yet.”
Krueger said she does support adult use marijuana in the state and pointed to a proposal from fellow Delco state Rep. Dave Delloso, D- 162 of Ridley Park, to regulate and sell marijuana through state stores in the same way alcohol is already handled.
“Other states that have legalized adult use marijuana have seen significant revenues and many times we’re in Harrisburg with folks saying we don’t have enough revenue to pay for things,” said Krueger. “Well, this is a new source of revenue that’s out there and I support it. I think we need to make sure that it’s truly adult use marijuana and that it’s regulated similar to the way alcohol and liquor is in Pennsylvania.”
Cohn said he anticipates Pennsylvania making a move to recreational marijuana as early as next year. He noted Agri-Kind has received approval for a second grow location in Chester through Agronomed Biologics and is looking to expand on the dispensary side as well with another five locations over the next 12 to 14 months.
Darin said Curaleaf has been advocating for the marijuana industry from the beginning, but added that safety is paramount and regulations must ensure for proper testing, and age verified product.
“As legislation conversations develop in Pennsylvania, we will continue to play the long game, seeking to make cannabis something everyone can understand, feel like they can relate to, and benefit from,” he said. “Cannabis is highly personal for everyone: It affects everyone differently. Curaleaf offers a variety of form functions and products for all health and wellness needs.”
Cohn said he thinks Pennsylvania does a fairly decent job of analyzing what other states have done and trying to implement progressive best-practices, and the medical marijuana program is a pretty good testament to that.
“I don’t think they’re going to come out with a program like in Massachusetts where they opened up and it was probably about a year before you could even buy it,” he said. “Even now, supply in Massachusetts is still pretty tight, so I think PA will be a little bit better about governing that.”