Pa. releases draft medical marijuana regulations for doctors

The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued draft regulations on Tuesday that would govern how doctors become registered to prescribe medical marijuana and certify patients to receive the drug when it becomes available.

It's the most recent step in the effort to provide medical marijuana to patients by next year. The state legalized medical cannabis in 2016.

The Health Department accepted applications from entities hoping to win a limited number of dispensary and grower/processor permits between Feb. 20 and March 20. It has not said how many applications it received or from what parts of the state they were submitted.

"The process for a patient to obtain medical marijuana will begin with the physician, so it's vital to ensure that our regulatory process for those physicians is open and transparent," said Dr. Karen Murphy, state health secretary, in a statement. "Our focus remains to implement a patient-focused medical marijuana program that gives help to those who need it, and these temporary regulations mark an important step forward in achieving that goal."

State law permits the use of medical marijuana to treat 17 serious health conditions. It can be dispensed in the form of pills, oils, topical creams or as a liquid that can vaporized and inhaled, but not in a leaf form that can be smoked.

It requires doctors that want to certify patients to receive medical marijuana to undergo a training course and put their names on a registry. That's included in the regulations, along with a prohibition against doctors advertising their ability to prescribe medical cannabis.

That prohibition is designed to prevent doctors from setting up as "stereotypical pot docs" who are willing recommend almost anyone for marijuana at a set price, said Becky Dansky, legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group.

"Asking them to put their name on a list increases the odds of those doctors not participating," Dansky said. "And when doctors don't participate, patients access is hindered. A better option would have been to require registration of doctors who are submitting a significant number of recommendations per month."

The proposed regulations governing doctors include:

•Doctors working at marijuana dispensaries must notify the physician that certified a patient to receive medical marijuana if a patient has an adverse reaction.

•Doctors wishing to be registered to certify their patients to receive medical marijuana must be fully licensed physicians in good standing who are qualified to treat patients with one of the 17 serous health conditions eligible for treatment with medical marijuana, under the state law.

•Doctors registered to certify patients to receive medical marijuana are prohibited from having a direct or economic interest in a medical marijuana dispensary or growing operation. They are also prohibited from prescribing marijuana for themselves or for family members.

•Doctors wishing to be registered to certify patients to receive medical marijuana must first undergo a four-hour training program.

The Department of Health is seeking comments on the regulations, which can be downloaded here.  The state has asked doctors to provide feedback before Apr. 20. 

Contact Morning Call reporter Scott Kraus at scott.kraus@mcall.com610-820-6745 or @skraus. 

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