Pennsylvania Officials Announce $19 Million In Marijuana-Funded Student Debt Relief Grants For Substance Misuse Treatment Professionals

Pennsylvania officials are awarding nearly $19 million in grants, partially funded by medical marijuana tax revenue, to help substance misuse treatment professionals pay down their student loans.

The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) announced last week that it is drawing from the state Medical Marijuana Program Fund, as well as settlement money from a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company for opioid-related claims, to provide the student debt relief for 280 substance use disorder (SUD) treatment professionals.

DDAP Secretary Jen Smith said in a press release that the administration “remains committed to strengthening the drug and alcohol treatment and case management system across Pennsylvania and this loan repayment program is just one more example of that commitment.”

“Easing the burden of student debt is paramount to helping incentivize SUD professionals to remain in this field, which in turn will benefit some of our loved ones, friends and neighbors who need SUD services most,” Smith said.

The 280 grant recipients include case managers, counselors, licensed social workers, physician assistants and registered nurses, the department said in the announcement, which was made jointly with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

“We are thrilled that the administration is investing into helping and boosting the behavioral health care workforce,” Noreen Fredrick of UPMC Western Behavioral Health said. “Behavioral health workers have been at the forefront of addressing substance use disorders and saving lives. There are many ways in which UPMC is advocating for our employees, and programs like this will certainly help ease the heavy loan burden many clinicians obtain to do this important work.”

DDAP said that the substance misuse treatment sector has experienced high turnover rates and worker shortages, which makes it all the more necessary to promote such incentives. The goal of the student loan repayment grants is to increase worker retention.

People who received the grants had to demonstrate a minimum of two prior years of SUD professional experience while also committing to working in the field for an addition two years.

This grant announcement comes two months after Pennsylvania officials announced that they will separately be providing up to $200,000 in matched funding for marketing projects to promote the state’s hemp market.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and the Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons recently completed its review of more than 3,500 marijuana pardon applications it received through a program meant to expedite relief—and just 231 advanced, to the disappointment of advocates.

Separately, Pennsylvania Democratic lawmakers won enough seats to take control of the state House of Representatives after last month’s election—a development that could have major implications for marijuana reform in the state, where Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro (D) backs legalization. That said, because of vacancies in some seats, it’s unclear when the Democratic majority will be able to take control of the House.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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