Coronavirus and Cannabis: Pennsylvania Regulatory Updates

By Elliot Choi and Jacob Setton

Mar 27, 2020

This VS Insight is dedicated to updates regarding the coronavirus and cannabis in Pennsylvania. For updates on other states or coronavirus-related issues, see our main post on the subject, "Coronavirus and Cannabis: Monitoring the Impact."

Cannabis regulations are in flux across the U.S. as officials at every level of government work to contain the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Vicente Sederberg is closely monitoring the situation, and we are communicating with regulators to understand how these local, state and federal responses may affect cannabis business operators, medical patients, and other cannabis consumers. We are committed to doing everything we can to keep our clients and the public updated as we learn of new developments, but please note this is an extremely fluid situation and there is a lot we do not know. This VS Insights post is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal or tax advice. We strongly encourage you to contact an attorney if you are seeking advice regarding any specific legal or tax issue.


LATEST UPDATES

March 30, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine further expanded the "stay at home" order issued on March 23, 2020, to include Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin and Schuylkill counties. The expanded order now includes 26 counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

March 28, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine further expanded the "stay at home" order issued on March 23, 2020, to include Beaver, Centre and Washington counties. The expanded order now includes 22 counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Centre, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

March 27, 2020

  • Governor Wolf signed four bills in connection with Pennsylvania’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. One signed bill was House Bill 68, which makes applying for unemployment compensation easier for workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by:

    • Waiving the one-week waiting period and job search and work registration requirements

    • Providing automatic relief from benefit charges during the disaster emergency

    • Increasing timeframes and allows for interest-free payment plans

    • Providing the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry with the ability to adopt temporary regulations to ensure compliance with federal law

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine also expanded the "stay at home" order issued on March 23, 2020, to include the nine additional counties of Berks, Butler, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Luzerne, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York. The expanded order now includes 19 counties: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

March 25, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine expanded the "stay at home" order issued on March 23, 2020, to include Lehigh and Northampton counties. The expanded order includes 10 counties: Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, and Philadelphia counties.

  • Governor Wolf also announced that new program, the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program (CWCA), that will provide loans to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The CWCA is under the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority’s (PIDA) Small Business First Fund and has $60 million available to provide loans of $100,000 or less to for-profit businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees.

    • A spokesperson for the CWCA confirmed that medical cannabis businesses are eligible for CWCA loans so long as the other requirements are met.

    • Interested applicants should find the appropriate contact based on the county the businesses is located using this website. Applicants are encouraged to call the appropriate contact and request an application as this should be quicker than email requesting an application.

March 24, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine expanded the "stay at home" order issued on March 23, 2020, to include Erie county. The order now includes eight counties: Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Monroe, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties.

March 23, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued a "stay at home" order for Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. The order requires individuals to stay in their residences and leave only to perform certain permitted activities and essential travel. Life-sustaining business activities and healthcare or medical services providers are exempt from the order. Permitted activities include, among other items:

    • Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home;

    • Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves, for their family or household members, or as part of volunteer efforts, or to deliver those services or supplies to others to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences;

    • Performing work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business (which includes medical cannabis businesses, see March 20, 2020 update below);

    • Caring for a family member or pet in another household; and

    • Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities.

March 20, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine provided updated guidance for their orders to close the physical locations of all non-life-sustaining business. The updates includes a revised list of life-sustaining businesses that added pharmacies, among other businesses. Importantly, the Department of Health also announced that “Medical marijuana grower/processors and dispensaries are considered life-sustaining businesses under the Governor’s order. "We want to be sure cardholders in the medical marijuana program can receive medication for one of 23 serious medical conditions during this difficult time.”

  • The Department of Health’s announcement also implemented temporary changes to the medical cannabis program in response to COVID-19. The changes temporarily suspended the following statutory and regulatory provisions

    • The requirements that dispensing must occur in an indoor enclosed facility. Instead dispensary employees will be permitted to go out to patients’ vehicle, retrieve identification cards, go back inside and dispense product, and then deliver product to the patient in their car. The vehicle must be on “site” meaning within the property line of the dispensary, such as a parking lot;

    • The limitation that each caregiver may only be assigned five patients. Caregivers are permitted to serve an unlimited number of patients, essentially allowing caregivers to deliver medical cannabis to any patients;

    • Background checks for renewal of caregiver applications (applies to renewal only);

    • The requirement of “in-person” consultations for patient renewal certifications (applies to renewals only);

    • 30-day supply limit. Instead, patients with the required approval of their practitioner can be authorized to dispense a 90-day supply.

March 19, 2020

  • Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed orders prohibiting the operation of any businesses that are not-life sustaining businesses. In addition, life-sustaining businesses that remain open must follow, at a minimum, the social distancing practices and other mitigation measures defined by the Centers for Disease Control.

    • The order also included a list of life-sustaining businesses. At the time of the order, cannabis businesses, including medical cannabis dispensaries were not included in this list. However and as mentioned above, the Secretary of Health announced the following day that medical cannabis business are considered life-sustaining businesses under the Governor’s order.

    • The order also provided that failure to comply with the requirements of the order would result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines, or license suspensions.

    • Governor Wolf also announced the availability of low-interest loans for small businesses through the United States Small Business Administration.

      • However, the United States Small Business Administration has stated that cannabis businesses are not eligible for SBA loans even if the business is legal under state and local laws.

March 17, 2020

  • A spokesperson for the Department of Health stated that "medical marijuana dispensaries are considered the same as pharmacies, and so they are considered essential during this time of nonessential retail being shut down to mitigate and increase social distancing."

March 15, 2020

  • Governor Wolf announced that mitigation efforts would be in effect statewide. These mitigation efforts include previously announced requirements and also added, among other items:

    • Freedom of travel will remain, but all Pennsylvanians are asked to refrain from non-essential travel; and

    • Supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations will remain open.

March 15, 2020

  • Governor Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dine-in facilities at 12:01 AM on Monday, March 16.

March 14, 2020

  • The Department of Health issued a letter agreeing with the Governor’s previously issued guidelines to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including recommending that all non-essential businesses across the state close for at least 14 days. Non-essential retail businesses that should temporarily cease operations include:
    • Community and recreation centers
    • Gyms, including yoga/spin/barre facilities
    • Hair salons, nail salons, and spas
    • Casinos, concert venues, and theaters
    • Bars
    • Sporting events facilities and golf courses
    • Non-essential retail facilities, including shopping malls (except for pharmacy or other healthcare facilities located therein)
    • NOTE: Liquor stores will begin an orderly closure. Individuals can still buy wine and beer at grocery stores with licenses
    • NOTE: Restaurants should stay open for carry-out and delivery only

March 13, 2020

  • Governor Wolf announced in a press release the closure of all Pennsylvania schools.

  • Governor Wolf also provided updated statewide guidance adding restrictions on visitors at correctional facilities, nursing homes, government buildings and assisted living and personal care homes.

March 12, 2020

  • Governor Wolf provided statewide guidance including:
    • Encouraging the suspension of large gatherings (250 or more people);
    • Discouraging individuals from engaging in recreational activities such as gyms, movie theaters and shopping malls;
    • Encouraging religious leaders “exercise discretion” in order to halt the spread of illness.

March 6, 2020