Medical marijuana won't be available in Philadelphia for more than a year, but when it finally arrives, patients may be able to have it delivered to their doors like a pizza or pick it up at a dispensary tucked inside a large shopping mall.
At a City Council committee hearing Friday, city senior planner Paula Brumbelow suggested home delivery as a way of ensuring access to those who need the drug most.
Some jurisdictions already permit medical marijuana dispensaries to provide this service. Last week, New York state authorized delivery to people who are too sick to travel. There could be other advantages to courier service, such as avoiding pot businesses near schools, day-care centers, and churches.
Delivery "may also allow us to be conservative on the locations of dispensaries and possibly future recreational stores," Brumbelow said.
When the regulations governing the state's cannabis industry finally are adopted, entrepreneurs will be able to apply for permits to grow or dispense. The total number of licenses allowed by state law is limited to 25 for cultivators and 50 for dispensary operators.
Lindy Snider, who has launched several cannabis start-ups, also stressed the importance of making medical marijuana accessible.
"Just like pharmacies, patients should not have to drive clear across town to an industrial area to access medicine," she said in her testimony to the committee on public health and human services, advising Council to guarantee that dispensaries are geographically spread out and close to public transportation.
Snider also serves on the advisory board for Thomas Jefferson University's Center for Medical Cannabis Education and Research. She announced that the center soon will launch an initiative to focus on business and social justice issues in the medical cannabis industry.
Ultimately, zoning will govern where dispensaries and indoor growing operations are located. State law bans both from being within 1,000 yards of a school or day-care center. But the city can apply for waivers, Brumbelow said.
"The dispensaries will go where Council and the community want them," she said. Though nothing has been formalized, Brumbelow said planners likely would permit dispensaries in most commercial districts.
During his testimony, City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said he worried that marijuana products, specifically "THC-impregnated gummy bears," might end up in the hands of children.
"We don't want marijuana that looks like candy or is not in child-proof containers," Farley said.
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), who also testified, assured Farley that state law forbids dispensaries from selling fully prepared edibles. But patients will be able to buy kits that will allow them to add medical marijuana products to any food they want.
Farley responded that the legislation was complicated, and that he had not had the opportunity to thoroughly review the law.
The two parried about whether marijuana was addictive. Farley advised caution, saying there were "considerable health risks with using this substance." Leach, who has made medical cannabis his signature issue, disagreed, reminding the doctor that unlike opioids or alcohol, there is no lethal dose of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
Leach said patients might become psychologically dependent on marijuana, but dependence is not equivalent to a physical addition.
"I liken it to sex addiction," he said. "You could say, 'Oh, my God, I really wish I could have sex.' But you're not going to have delirium tremens if you don't. You're just going to be really anxious. I know. I've been there."