John Collins will soon be retiring from his position as director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Medical Marijuana. But before he goes, Collins is issuing a warning over the exorbitant prices that the state’s medical cannabis patients must shoulder.
During an online meeting of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Wednesday, Collins lamented a trend that has left patients in the state paying more than they should.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the “average wholesale price for a gram of medical cannabis leaf in Pennsylvania has fallen 36% since the beginning of 2020,” but Collins said that the “the average retail price that patients pay is down only 14% over the same period.”
“I’m clearly calling out today, secretary, a red flag that needs to be investigated,” Collins told Pennsylvania Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter during the meeting, as quoted by local news outlet WSKG.
The Inquirer has more specifics on the price changes, reporting that the “average wholesale price of a gram of weed fell to $6.56 in February from $10.19 at the beginning of 2020,” but at retail “the average price fell to $13.40 per gram from $15.67 per gram.”
Pennsylvania has long had some of the nation’s highest prices for medical cannabis, according to the Inquirer.
“There is a significant opportunity to pass along savings to patients. Speaking for them, they should demand this be passed to them,” said Collins, as quoted by New Castle News.
But as Collins said Wednesday, the state’s hands are pretty much tied.
WSKG reported that Collins says regulators in the state “have few options because of how the rules were written in Pennsylvania.”
“We can’t particularly force a price point,” Collins said, according to The Inquirer. “Dispensaries take title to the product and have the right to price it. What we can do to encourage more competition is to put a spotlight on it like we’re doing today.”
Options such as price caps may not alleviate the problem, according to Collins, who is retiring at month’s end.
“We’re seeing the evidence of a competitive market, but this is again illustrating a bit of a holdback on passing those savings along to patients,” Collins said, as quoted by WSKG.
But some industry officials pushed back on Collins’ assertions.
Meredith Buettner, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, a trade group representing medical cannabis permit holders in the state, said that Collins’ comments on Wednesday “fail to recognize the regulatory reality of operating in Pennsylvania,” as quoted by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Per The Inquirer, Buettner “blamed Pennsylvania’s relatively high prices on duplicative product testing requirements, the inability of Pennsylvania operations to remediate contaminated cannabis into a something else they can sell and other factors.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers and policymakers have tweaked and expanded the medical cannabis law ever since the treatment was legalized in 2016.
In September, two members of the Pennsylvania state House introduced legislation that would protect medical cannabis patients in the state from DUI penalties.
“I believe that people with a medical need for cannabis, who have acted courageously to seek help for their medical condition and have been granted use of medical cannabis, should be protected from DUI penalties for their legal medical cannabis use,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Rabb, one of the bill’s sponsors. “I know I’m not the only lawmaker in the General Assembly who has been contacted by constituents concerned that their responsible use of medical cannabis may expose them to targeting by law enforcement when they drive.”
Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health banned hundreds of medical cannabis products that it said contained additives that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.