Doctors registered and approved under Pennsylvania’s new Medical Marijuana Program will be able to prescribe medical marijuana to qualified patients through a patient certification process. The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (SB3) established a Medical Marijuana Program under the Department of Health to serve patients with serious medical conditions, allowing patients to receive marijuana medication legally as a part of their treatment plan.
The Department of Health will be responsible for registering practitioners and overseeing compliance. Chapter 4 of the Medical Marijuana Act covers regulations for practitioners, but physicians may want to consult an attorney to further discuss the risks involved.
What Doctors Need to Know About Prescribing Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania
- Doctors will need to be approved and registered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to certify patients for medical marijuana use.
- Patients will receive certification from a physician and an identification card from the Department of Health.
- Information on certifications issued to patients by doctors is confidential and not subject to public disclosure. However, the names, business address and medical credentials of doctors authorized to provide patients with certification will be made publically available.
- Doctors will be required to attend a four-hour training course on medical marijuana, and continuing education credit will be given.
- There will be disciplinary actions against doctors that have violated the Medical Marijuana Act.
- It is a first degree misdemeanor if a doctor intentionally, knowingly or recklessly certifies an unqualified patient for medical marijuana.
- Only certain forms of medical marijuana will be allowed.
Forms of Medical Marijuana Allowed in Pennsylvania
The Department of Health is responsible for developing regulations on the types of medical marijuana products that can be made available. These are subject to change after further review of marijuana treatment plans. Under current law, medical marijuana can only be dispensed in the following forms:
Medical marijuana may not be dispensed in dry leaf or plant form. Smoking marijuana, recreationally or for medical purposes, is still illegal. Edible marijuana is not allowed, but patients and caregivers are allowed to put their marijuana product into an edible form to aid ingestion.
Medical Conditions Doctors Can Prescribe Marijuana for in Pennsylvania
Only certain serious medical conditions can be legally treated with medical marijuana under the new Pennsylvania law. Regulations will likely change over the next few years, but as of 2016 the following conditions qualify for medical marijuana treatment plans:
- Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Huntington’s disease.
- Crohn’s disease.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Intractable seizures.
- Sickle cell anemia.
- Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.
Doctor Registration for the Medical Marijuana Certification Program
The Department of Health requires registration for physicians wanting to certify patients for medical marijuana. Doctors must put in an application with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to be registered with the Marijuana Program. The following will be required:
- Documentation of credentials, training or experience.
- Annual renewal.
- Review of physician license to make sure it is not expired, suspended or revoked.
The following requirements must be met in order for a doctor to issue medical marijuana to a patient:
- The physician must be registered with the Department of Health.
- The physician’s medical license must be valid and not suspended, revoked or expired.
- The physician must determine that the patient has a serious medical condition, and must record the condition in the patient’s health care record.
- The patient must be under the continuing care of the prescribing physician for the serious medical condition.
- The physician must determine that the patient receives therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical marijuana after a review of the treatment.
- The physician must review the drug monitoring program prior to certifying a patient.
Physician Responsibilities Under the Medical Marijuana Program
The doctor has responsibilities to report in writing to the Department of Health certain events pertaining to certified patients:
- The patient’s serious medical condition no longer exists.
- Medical marijuana would no longer be therapeutic or palliative.
- Patient death.
Doctors are not allowed to:
- Accept remuneration for certification, except a fee for a service to examine a patient to determine if the patient qualifies for medical marijuana certification.
- Certify self or family members for medical marijuana use.
- Doctors may not hold a direct or economic interest in a medical marijuana dispensary, grower or processor, or other medical marijuana organizations defined under law.
- Doctors may not advertise their services as a doctor who can certify a patient for medical marijuana treatment.
- Make any false statements on the certification form.
Committing any of those acts are a violation of the Medical Marijuana Act. This will cause a doctor to lose certifying privileges for medical marijuana and the physician’s name will be removed from the Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana Program registry. It will also result in disciplinary action from the State Medical Board for unprofessional conduct under the Medical Practice Act of 1985.
Physician Protection Under the Medical Marijuana Act
Doctors should consult an attorney before making the decision to prescribe medical marijuana. This will give the physician the opportunity to hear from an expert the licensure risks, criminal and civil penalties, marijuana investment allowances, and other risks and protections inherent in the new medical marijuana laws.