Physicians in Pennsylvania can now register to participate in the state’s forthcoming medical marijuana program.
The state Department of Health announced on Wednesday the launch of its online practitioner registry, open to anyone with current medical licenses -- acquired through medical or osteopathic doctorates -- who actively treats patients with one of 17 serious medical conditions.
Those conditions include inflammatory bowel syndrome, sickle cell anemia, cancer, HIV/AIDS and more.
Acting Health Secretary Rachel Levine said it will be important for the department to know which physicians will be evaluating patients and referring them to dispensaries for treatment.
“We also will have a database so that patients with one of those serious medical conditions will be able to know which physicians are participating in the program,” Levine said.
Physicians who sign up will be required to participate in four hours of continuing education to learn about how to recommend medical marijuana and the appropriate forms and dosages.
Doctors cannot legally “prescribe” medical marijuana under federal law, but in 2002 a federal judge upheld a lower court’s ruling that the government cannot punish a physician for “recommending” marijuana.
Levine said the department is on track to have the entire medical marijuana system up and running in 2018.
“I can’t tell you exactly what date, but we are moving efficiently," Levine said. "But with appropriate quality and standards to make sure that it’s the best program we could possibly make it.”
Licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries have been awarded for locations in Lawrenceville, Oakland, Squirrel Hill and Monroeville. Dispensaries are also coming to Butler, Washington, Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
The state has also awarded grower/processer licenses to facilities in McKeesport, Carmichaels in Greene County and Castle in Lawrence County.
Levine said regulations for patients and the patient registry are coming soon. She wasn't sure precisely when.
A spokesperson for UPMC said they are still in the process of creating guidelines for physicians to recommend medical marijuana. Allegheny Health Network and Conemaugh Health System in Johnstown was unable to provide a physician to comment by press time. St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.