A radio ad campaign launched this week on KYW 1060 touting a matchmaking service.
The advertisements, for marijuanadoctors.com, claim the company can hook up patients who think they need medical marijuana with Pennsylvania doctors who can write recommendations for it.
The same company is taking out billboards along I-95 and the Roosevelt Expressway.
But patients who use the referral service may get nothing more than a serious case of agita and dashed hopes.
Despite the ad’s claims, “there are no doctors in Pennsylvania who have been approved to certify patients for the medical marijuana program,” said an official for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Doctors listed on the service’s website might not pass muster with the state. Patients, charged an average of $200 for an office visit, may end up with a lighter wallet and a worthless piece of paper.
“Any listing of physicians is premature,” said spokeswoman April Hutcheson. “No physicians have been approved. And the department is not yet soliciting patients to participate in the program.”
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) was more pointed.
“Anyone who says they can get you a referral is lying,” Leach said. “It’s illegal. There is nothing relevant to Pennsylvania that this company can do now.”
Medical marijuana will be available in early 2018 for patients suffering from 17 qualifying conditions ranging from cancer to PTSD to irritable bowel syndrome.
Doctors must take, and pass, a four-hour course before they can recommend cannabis oils, tinctures, and creams. There will be no smokeable forms of marijuana available to patients through the state program.
Doctors are prohibited by state law from advertising their ability to make marijuana referrals. They also must not have a financial stake in any marijuana company or provide any medical marijuana products.
At least one of the Pennsylvania practitioners listed on marijuanadoctors.com sells cannabidiol (CBD) products on its website. CBD, which is believed to have some therapeutic properties for children with seizures, is produced from hemp and cannabis. It does not deliver the high of the psychoactive THC molecule. However, under federal and Pennsylvania law, CBD remains a Schedule 1 substance and is just as illegal to sell as LSD or heroin.
When doctors are approved, the state will list all officially qualified professionals at medicalmarijuana.pa.gov.
And the state won’t charge physicians to be included on the registry.
The advertised referral service, however, will charge doctors a minimum of $299 a month.
“Premium listings start at $895,” said Jason Draizin, founder and CEO of the Medical Cannabis Network, which operates the website and several other marijuana-related internet ventures. “Some physicians pay over $10,000 a month.”
Leach, the main architect behind the state’s medical marijuana program, urged doctors to wait for the state registry.
“There will be free options to connect with patients,” Leach said. “Physicians don’t need to do this.”
Draizin’s company runs physician directories in 30 states where some form of marijuana is legal. He describes his company as a data-mining service. He pays to have his websites ranked the highest on Google searches, displacing the state competition.
He said his service, which will start advertising on WMMR-FM next month, does more than matchmaking.
“We help forge the bona fide relationship” between a patient and the practitioner, Draizin said. “We also create protocols that do the screening so they see the right patients.”
In Pennsylvania, “we know we have 11,291 patients whose doctors have submitted them to the program,” Draizin said.
That was news to Hutcheson.
She repeated: “There are no doctors who have been approved.”
“The only information that we can guarantee is accurate about the program is on our website.”