Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (the “Act”) legalized the use of medical marijuana as of April 2016. Initially, the Act permitted the use of medical marijuana to treat 17 serious medical conditions when certified as such by a properly credentialed healthcare provider. The list included conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and terminal illnesses. Since 2016, however, the Act’s list of qualifying conditions has expanded and now covers 23 conditions, including anxiety.

At the time that the Act was amended to include anxiety as a covered condition, approximately 19 percent of U.S. adults had experienced anxiety disorders in the prior year. These numbers appear to be on the rise, likely due at least in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics partnered with the Census Bureau to implement the Household Pulse Survey, a 20-minute online survey designed to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health. This survey reveals that between April 23, 2020 and July 21, 2020, nearly 32 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety disorder. As a benchmark for comparison, the CDC points out that the National Health Interview Survey indicated that only 8.2 percent of adults aged 18 and over reported symptoms of anxiety disorder between January and June of 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in the relaxation of several restrictions set forth in the Act, making it easier for individuals to obtain certification for and obtain medical marijuana. On March 20, 2020, Governor Wolf issued a Medical Marijuana Coronavirus (COVID-19) Notice, temporarily suspending certain provisions of the Medical Marijuana Act due to the pandemic. This Notice, among other things, allows for the curbside pick-up of medical marijuana; permits remote certifications for new medical marijuana patients; suspends the background check requirement for caregivers on renewal certifications; and increases the statutory 30-day supply dispensation limit to a 90-day supply. The changes to the Act set forth in the March 20, 2020 Notice will continue throughout the duration of the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency.

According to John J. Collins, the Director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Medical Marijuana, the medical marijuana market in Pennsylvania doubled in size between February 2020 and August 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and with the expectation that the rate and impact of new cases may surge as we enter the fall and winter months, the spike in individuals experiencing symptoms of anxiety is likely to continue. As a result, there may be a corresponding increase in individuals utilizing medical marijuana to treat these symptoms.

Pennsylvania employers should review their current drug-testing and workplace policies to ensure that they are prepared for a potential influx of medical marijuana users. To comply with Pennsylvania law, employers should clearly identify standards of conduct for their employees and for the workplace; ensure that adverse actions against applicants or employees are not based solely on an individual’s status as a medical marijuana user; and be mindful of the risks associated with failing to engage in an interactive dialogue regarding potential accommodations for medical marijuana use.

Additional information regarding Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act can be obtained in our previous article, published here.