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More than 4,000 Pennsylvania residents register for medical marijuana in 1st week

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 2:24 p.m.
Marijuana plants. (File photo)
Getty Images
Marijuana plants. (File photo)

Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that the Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient and caregiver registry has increased to more than 4,000 people in its first week.

So far, more than 3,800 patients and 200 caregivers have registered for the medical marijuana program.

“Since I signed medical marijuana into law in 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has been laser-focused on implementation,” Wolf said in a statement. “The success of the patient registry one week since it was announced is another indicator of the need for this vital medication, and a testament to the department's commitment to making medical marijuana available to patients in 2018.”

Last week, the state Health Department reported that more than 1,000 people registered on the first day of applications for the state's new Medical Marijuana Program.

Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 17 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

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.

State officials said more than 300 physicians have registered with the health department to participate in the program. Of those, 109 have been approved as practitioners. The rest are completing the required training and review process.

“The response from patients and caregivers has been extremely positive,” Acting Secretary for the Department of Health and Physician General Rachel Levine said in a statement Wednesday. “Right now, patients and caregivers across Pennsylvania can go to our website at medicalmarijuana.pa.gov and register to participate in the medical marijuana program. Their next step is to visit an approved doctor to become certified with the program.”

Bryan Doner, a doctor who has offices in Pittsburgh and Butler, said his waiting list for patients has already topped 1,000 in Western Pennsylvania and 2,000 across the state. Doner, CEO of the national medical marijuana network Compassionate Certification Centers, plans to open about 25 offices throughout the state.

“The patient response that we have received so far has been tremendous, particularly since the state physician registry was released,” Doner said. “Patients are highly anticipating the initiation of the state's medical marijuana program, and the release of the physician registry is a large step in this process. I am personally very encouraged by the progress the state has made thus far.”

Dr. Adam Rothschild, a family physician at Handelsman Family Practice in Munhall, was among those doctors approved to certify patients in Allegheny County. He said he plans to set up his medical marijuana practice in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood and continue to see patients at the family practice.

Rothschild said he isn't concerned that the number of potential patients so far greatly eclipse the program's registered doctors.

“Yes, we are seeing overwhelming patient interest, and it may take a week or two to get an appointment for medical cannabis certification, but physicians are a hard-working bunch,” he said. “We must resist the urge to compare Pennsylvania's program to New York's program, which seems to have suffered not so much from a lack of participating providers but rather lack of a comprehensive provider directory due to a procedural hurdle. Patients couldn't find participating providers not because there weren't enough but because they had no way of identifying them. Considering how many patient inquiries we are fielding already in Pennsylvania, we clearly don't have that problem here.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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