Pennsylvania is the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program. It went into effect on May 17, 2016, and allows patients to take the drug in pill, oil, ointment, liquid or vapor form. The new law allows for approved Pennsylvania residents to obtain medication made from some of the chemical compounds that are found naturally in the marijuana plant.
The primary component of medicinal marijuana is cannabinoids. One form of this, Cannabidiol, or CBD, is used to make oil as an aide in reducing inflammation and pain and controlling seizures. It is non-intoxicating on its own. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main mind-altering ingredient in the Cannabis plant. It attaches to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and affects sensory and time perception, coordination, concentration, thinking, movements, pleasure and memory. It stimulates cells in the brain to release dopamine, which causes euphoria. THC also interferes with the part of the brain that is responsible for creating new memories, and increases appetite and reduces nausea. THC may also decrease pain and inflammation and aides in cases of muscle control problems. As of right now, the FDA has approved two medications which utilize extracted THC; Dronabinol and Nabilone. The other component of marijuana used in medication is something called terpenes.
The cannabis plant has roughly 140 aromatic organic hydrocarbons knows as terpenes. The terpenes and terpenoids are responsible for the flavor and fragrance of marijuana. Terpenes are used with cannabinoids to increase the medical benefit. For example, in the medicinal oil form, the main component is terpene. This includes oil used topically as well as liquid utilized in a vaping device. Cannabis vapor has a very distinctive smell, but vape pens have almost no cannabis smell when used. This is due to the concentration of terpenes in the specific form of medication, as well as the manner that each device utilizes to heat the vaping liquid.
It is the terpenes that may end up triggering a legal issue for the average patient. In many cases of suspected marijuana possession, officers describe an odor emanating from the vehicle. That odor creates probable cause. But, if a vehicle operator has a registration card for medical marijuana, does probable cause still exist to search that vehicle? As of now, it seems there is no clear answer. A California Court of Appeals decided that it did, reasoning that the officer had the right to search for a quantity of marijuana beyond which is allowed to be in a registrant’s possession. See People v. Waxler, 168 Cal. Rptr.3d 822, 224 Cal.App.4th 712 (2014). As Pennsylvania delves deeper into the medical marijuana issue, more challenges and questions will likely be raised; ones that can only be decided by the court.
The medical marijuana legislation has not altered Pennsylvania’s DUI law. In Pennsylvania, driving with a THC limit of 1 nanogram per milliliter of whole blood is considered criminal behavior, regardless of the actual impairment of the driver, and without exception for medical marijuana patients. The legal protections from prosecution and arrest for possession of medical marijuana in the state of Pennsylvania apply only when a patient is issued a medical cannabis registration card. Although Pennsylvania Law permits medical marijuana, keep in mind that Federal Law does not. Under Federal Law, it is still illegal to possess marijuana, medical or otherwise.