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Safe Harbor Letter May Not Be as Helpful as Planned

August 2016

In July, the Department of Health issued temporary regulations allowing caregivers of minors to file for a Safe Harbor Letter with the Department that would allow them to obtain medical marijuana from another state for the minor. 

Although the Department of Health has received applications for the Safe Harbor Letter, caregivers face obstacles in actually purchasing medical marijuana from outside the Commonwealth.  In order to receive the Safe Harbor letter, the caregiver must submit, among other documents, a Safe Harbor Physician Form completed by a Pennsylvania licensed physician attesting that the minor has a serious medical condition that warrants the use of medical marijuana.

The issue faced by the caregivers who have applied for a Safe Harbor Letter is that the laws of many of the other states prevent them from obtaining medical marijuana from a dispensary in the state. In most instances, to obtain medical marijuana from a dispensary in another state, the patient must be a resident of that state and be under the continuing care of a physician licensed in the state who is also registered in the state to certify patients.  Of our neighboring states, only Delaware will recognize a valid patient registry from another state, but it still requires that the patient be certified again by a Delaware licensed physician registered in the state to certify patients. As a result,  patients will need to be certified once by a Pennsylvania physician to obtain the Safe Harbor Letter and a second time by a Delaware physician, under whom the patient has a continuing care relationship.  So while Delaware may recognize the Safe Harbor Letter, it does little to help the patient. Of the other surrounding states, New Jersey and New York allow only residents to register for medical marijuana, while Maryland will allow non-residents to register but they must be receiving medical care from a facility within the state. 

Even if the patient or caregiver could purchase medical marijuana from another state, it is illegal to cross state lines with it.

Although the intent of these early regulations was to enable minors who would benefit from medical marijuana to have early access to it, the reality is that it is unlikely that caregivers will be able to take advantage of the Safe Harbor Letter.