Lead photo via Pennsylvania Department of Health
It’s been more than a year and a half since Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the Keystone State, and there's finally a light at the end of the bureaucratic tunnel.
At a press conference at the State Capitol building in Harrisburg on Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, John Collins, and Health Secretary and Physician General, Rachel Levine, told a crowd of residents and reporters that the state’s limited medical marijuana program would be up and running within six months, promising access to patients by May of 2018 at the very latest, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
“You have my commitment: It’s going to happen,” Collins said.
In addition to the firm timetable, Collins and Levine announced the activation of an online registry portal that will allow Pennsylvania patients, physicians, and caregivers to help residents apply for the program and find local certifying doctors and dispensaries in their area.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 109 doctors have joined the program and completed the four-hour training necessary to recommend medical marijuana, ensuring that qualified patients will be able to get their medication as soon as the program opens for business in 2018.
But while a handful of cannabis-friendly states like California are home to hordes of “pay-to-play” doctors willing to recommend reefer for the right price, Pennsylvania’s restrictive medical marijuana program will feature a more regulated process, with only 17 medical conditions qualifying patients for the holistic medication.
In an interview with ABC affiliate WNEP, Keystone State physician Dr. Richard Blum, who quickly registered to recommend medical marijuana, told the news network that he has already received solicitations from residents interested in legal weed but who don’t meet the state’s strict criteria.
"I gather from the phone calls today that there is a demand out there and I don't imagine that I will be one of the doctors who will be interested in that demand. I'm more interested in helping patients that I know can be helped,” Dr. Blum told WNEP.
While state officials are confident that the restrictive safeguards and move to ban smokeable marijuana will influence more physicians to respect the program like Dr. Blum, they also hope that doctors across the state will realize the immense benefits of cannabis, and create widespread access to the newly approved medicine.
“It’s absolutely, critically important that we have physicians in many different specialties throughout the commonwealth to register and take the education and become practitioners in the program,” Health Secretary Levine told reporters from the Inquirer after Wednesday's news conference.
109 doctors is a good start, but according to the Allentown Morning Call, Pennsylvania is home to upwards of 39,000 active physicians, meaning at present, only a measly 0.2% of possible practitioners are on board to help potential MMJ patients.
With online registration now open to patients and physicians, Pennsylvania officials expect that number to grow exponentially in the months leading up to the program’s dispensary sales start.
"I did this bill because it was the right thing to do," Republican State Senator and medical marijuana supporter Mike Folmer told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It seems so surreal that we are one step closer."
Pennsylvania residents interested in registering as a medical marijuana patient, caregiver, or certifying physician can begin the process at the state’s official website here.