On April 17, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 (known as the Medical Marijuana Act) into law. The law went into effect on May 17, and Pennsylvania joined 23 others states by legalizing medical marijuana.
The Act aims to create a medical marijuana program, overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, for patients suffering from a certain designated medical conditions. The program is expected to be implemented within 18 and 24 months, making medical marijuana available to qualified patients by early 2018.
The law has different impacts for interested parties – physicians and potential growers and dispensers. In this in-depth two-part series, we break down the law and explain what it means for each group.
What Does The Medical Marijuana Act Mean For Physicians?
Technically, physicians are still not permitted to prescribe medical marijuana given its continued status as a “Schedule I” controlled substance under federal law. Rather, under Pennsylvania law, physicians issue a “certification” to patients who meet the following criteria:
- The patient has one of the following “Serious Medical Conditions”: ALS, autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, damage to certain spinal tissue, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, intractable seizures, multiple sclerosis, neuropathies, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, severe chronic or intractable neurological pain or sickle cell anemia.
- That, in the practitioner’s professional opinion and review of past treatments, the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the use of medical marijuana.
A practitioner is also required to review the prescription drug monitoring program prior to issuing a certification to determine the controlled substance history of a patient. Once a serious medical condition is established, the patient must obtain an identification card from the Department of Health before purchasing medical marijuana. Identification cards are valid for one year. Marijuana will then be dispensed in a thirty day supply of individual doses. Medical Marijuana may only be dispensed as pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures and liquid. Smoking medical marijuana is prohibited under the law.
To issue certifications, physicians must be specially registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Registration is limited to physicians that demonstrate, by training or experience, that they are qualified to treat the above conditions. Physicians also have a duty to report to the Department if the patient no longer needs medical marijuana due to improved health conditions or death. Specifics relating to the registration process are being drafted by the Department.
Registered physicians are required to attend a four-hour training course regarding the latest scientific research on medical marijuana, including its risks and benefits, and other information deemed necessary by the Department.
The law also includes prohibitions on advertising the practitioner’s services as a practitioner who can certify a patient to receive medical marijuana. Physicians may also not accept any payment or other incentive from a patient for certification other than accepting a fee for service with respect to the examination of the prospective patient.
The new medical marijuana law is favorable for physicians looking to refer patients to the Department of Health. The legislation is broad and the upcoming regulations will provide greater clarity and direction on the process of obtaining certifications. Consulting experienced healthcare legal counsel will be key to your success in these endeavors.