Despite its slow start, Pennsylvania medical marijuana program is taking steps to help patients access certified doctors.
With the start of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania rapidly nearing, there is rising concern that there may not be enough doctors signing on to certify patients looking to access medical marijuana for their needs.
Pennsylvania officials revealed earlier in the month that more than 3,800 people have already signed up during the medical marijuana patient registry’s first week. To help these patients locate doctors who can give them the certification they need to purchase medical cannabis, the state has created a database of enrolled doctors.
38:1 Patient to Doctor Ratio
Currently, just 109 doctors out of 57,670 physicians with active licenses statewide have finished the four hours of training necessary to certify qualifying patients.
However, State Department of Health spokeswoman April Hutcheson said more than 300 additional physicians have started the approval process, which puts Pennsylvania ahead of other states at a similar stage.
The doctor training, which will be provided by two educational firms approved by the state, covers topics such as the risk and benefits of medical marijuana.
“Response for the most part has been quite positive,” Hutcheson said. “More than 100 physicians is a good start, and we expect that number will continue to grow. We know we have enough to get started.”9
Still, the current 38:1 or so patient-physician ratio has some people wondering if there will be enough doctors to meet demand. Physicians could become a serious pinch point for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana patients if too few doctors participate. According to the state Department of Health, three-quarters of the 191 physicians who responded to a state survey about the program indicated that they planned to register for the program, far below the ratio who have actually signed up.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed the state’s medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016. The Health Department is regulating the program, which forbids smoking marijuana in dry flower form. Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will be available as pills, oils, tinctures, or ointments. Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies that they have one of the following 17 qualified medical conditions:
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Chronic or Intractable Pain
- Crohn’s Disease
- Huntington’s Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
- Intractable Seizures
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
Qualified patients with a doctor’s recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Dispensaries are also allowed to sell equipment, such as vaporizing devices, used to administer medical marijuana.
Apprehension from Doctors and the Future of MMJ
One reason for the low enrollment among doctors could be that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Our nation’s patchwork system of cannabis laws makes it difficult for many doctors to fully understand marijuana’s legality and their protections under Pennsylvania law.
Patients and cannabis activists in Pennsylvania are closely watching the number of doctors completing the required training to recommend medical marijuana to determine the level of access to cannabis products that patients in the state will have in the program’s opening months and years as well as measure the success of the program’s rollout.
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