If you want to become a medical marijuana patient in Pennsylvania during the coronavirus pandemic, you can. And you can now do it from the comfort of your own home.
That’s thanks to some temporarily relaxed regulations that Gov. Tom Wolf instituted under the state’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency last month. Among other changes, physicians registered with Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program can now certify new patients, and recertify existing ones, by doing a remote consultation over video conferencing or with a phone call.
Before the pandemic, patients had to be certified for a medical marijuana card by meeting in person with a registered doctor. That requirement has been suspended under Wolf’s disaster proclamation.
In New Jersey, the Department of Health announced a similar solution for its medical marijuana program last month. The state’s Alternative Treatment Centers now are not required to conduct in-person consultations for new patients unless requested, and consultations can be done over the phone, the state health department said in an online statement.
How do you go about getting certified for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania now, and what is the process like? Here is what you need to know:
You have to have at least one of 23 qualifying medical conditions listed by the state to be eligible to participate in the commonwealth’s medical marijuana program. Conditions on the list include anxiety disorders, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
You’ll need to provide documentation of your diagnosis, as “patient records must be reviewed and evaluated” by a participating physician, the Pa. health department says online. You can get records through your health-care providers’ online portal or by contacting with them directly.
“A copy of their last office note, an after-visit summary, [or] a printout list of their diagnoses” would be helpful, says Dr. Jennifer Minkovich, a Philadelphia-area physician who is offering remote consultations. “Really, anything from their health-care provider that simply states their name and diagnosis would be sufficient.”
If you have a qualifying condition, you can register for the medical marijuana program online by creating a profile on the Pa. health department’s Medical Marijuana Registry.
You’ll need to provide your name, address, and contact information, and must have a state-issued driver’s license or identification card. Address information is particularly important and must be entered exactly as it appears on your state ID, Minkovich notes.
“Be meticulous,” she says.
Remote consultations are allowed, but there isn’t an official list of registered doctors who are offering the service. The Pa. health department, however, provides a list of Pennsylvania physicians who are registered with the program generally.
“New patients should look at the list on our website and find a registered physician, and then call to determine if a remote consultation is available,” says Nate Wardle, state health department press secretary.
Consultations are often not covered by insurance, so you will have to pay for it out of pocket. New certifications usually cost between $125 and $199, and take about 15 to 30 minutes.
Some organizations are holding “certification events,” where they do individual consultations with a batch of patients on a particular day. The Pa. health department, however, “supports individuals working with their physician, or a physician on the certified practitioner list," Wardle says.
The Pittsburgh-based All Life Advanced Care Centers, for example, has an online form were patients can sign up for a consultation and become certified, should they have a qualifying condition, president Carla Mader says. That group, she adds, has been doing consultations remotely with several contracted physicians since late March, and walks patients through the registration process.
In-person consultations for a medical marijuana card are still allowed, but the Pa. health department recommends going the remote route. Wardle says, the department is “urging an increased use of telemedicine across the board, including outside the medical marijuana program.”
Remote consultations are “not much different than traditional office visits” for a medical marijuana certification, Minkovich says — other than the fact that you and the doctor are not in the same room.
“Traditional office visits consist of discussion, and a physical exam is not required,” she said. A virtual appointment is similar.
While the process may vary depending on the practitioner, many will discuss your medical history, provide an overview of the state’s medical marijuana program, and speak about what to expect when visiting a dispensary.
Once certified, you can log into your Medical Marijuana Registry account and pay for your medical marijuana card. That fee runs $50, but if you’re on a program like Medicaid and WIC, you could get that refunded.
The state’s medical marijuana program says it’s not aware of any delays in patients getting their cards, Wardle said. So you should get your card in the mail within seven to 10 days.
Once you get your medical marijuana card, you can make a purchase at a dispensary. There’s a list of approved dispensaries, which are considered essential businesses, on the Pa. health department’s website.
Pennsylvania dispensaries are operating a little differently now. Many have added curbside pickup and adopted cashless transactions. Some are even operating drive-thrus, or begun de facto home delivery, as The Inquirer reported this week.