Changes Coming for Physicians in Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program

By John G. Dumnich

The Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, has directed the Department to draft regulations to enact recommendations that were provided by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board (the "Board") in its Final Report to the Governor, Senate and House of Representatives (the "Final Report"), which was released on April 9. Many of the recommendations included in the Final Report will have an impact on physicians registered in Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program. Some of the most notable recommendations include the following:

Permitting medical marijuana to be dispensed in dry leaf or plant form, for administration by vaporization
In what has been the most publicized recommendation for the medical marijuana program, Dr. Levine stated that patients will be able to obtain medical marijuana in dry leaf or plant form, for administration by vaporization "later this summer." The inclusion of dry leaf and plant form is meant to provide patients with a low cost, easy to use form of medical marijuana.

The addition of new qualifying conditions
The Board recommended the list of qualifying medical conditions expanded to include the following:

  1. Neurodegenerative diseases
  2. Terminal illness with a life expectancy of one year or less
  3. Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders
  4. Addiction substitute therapy - opioid reduction

Revisions to certain current qualifying conditions
In addition to adding new qualifying conditions, the Board recommended revising certain of the current qualifying conditions including:

  1. Revising the "severe chronic or intractable pain" qualifying condition to remove the language stating "in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective."
  2. Revising the "cancer" qualifying condition to state "cancer; including remission therapy."
  3. Revising the "damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity" to state "damage to the nervous tissue of the CNS (brain-spinal cord) with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and other associated neuropathies."

Requiring patients under the age of 18 to be seen by a pediatrician or an adolescent or pediatric specialist
One of the more significant recommendations by the Board involves the requirements for practitioners who provide patients under 18 years of age with medical marijuana certifications. The Board recommended that these patients receive their medical marijuana certification from a pediatrician or pediatric specialist. However, Dr. Levine indicated that the implementation of this requirement would be delayed for a year to provide an opportunity for more pediatricians and pediatric specialists to join the program.

Not expanding the types of medical professionals who can issue a certification to patients.
Under Act 16, physicians who are in good standing with a Pennsylvania license to practice medicine are the only healthcare professionals who may register to provide patients medical marijuana certifications. While the Board recommended that the program continue to accept input from patients and the provider community regarding the types of medical professionals who could issue certifications, ultimately, the Board decided to keep the current restrictions in place.

Permitting practitioners to opt-out of the physician registry
After receiving feedback that some physicians left the medical marijuana program due to the influx of calls from potential patients, the Advisory Board recommended that physicians be permitted to opt-out of the public registry.

The regulations enacting these recommendations will appear in the May 12th edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Physicians registered to participate in the medical marijuana program should pay close attention to these changes to ensure compliance with state medical marijuana program regulations.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Board recommendations or including medical marijuana as a part of your practice, please contact any of Houston Harbaugh's health care attorneys.