If you want to become a medical marijuana patient in Pennsylvania, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

During the early days of the pandemic, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program began temporarily allowing registered physicians to certify new patients and recertify existing ones, by doing a remote consultation over video conferencing or with a phone call. (Pre-pandemic, patients had to be certified for a medical marijuana card by meeting in person with a registered doctor.)

Now, that change, among others, is permanent. Gov. Wolf signed House Bill 1024 into law last month, which “permanently allows for remote consultations,” according to a statement from Pennsylvania Department of Health deputy press secretary Maggi Barton.

The bill also made other changes including what conditions qualify and how dispensaries can operate, Barton said.

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So, 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:

What conditions qualify for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania?

You have to have at least one of about two dozen qualifying medical conditions to participate in the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program. According to the state, those conditions are:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Autism

  • Cancer, including remission therapy

  • Crohn’s disease

  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the central nervous system (brain-spinal cord) with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and other associated neuropathies

  • Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders

  • Epilepsy

  • Glaucoma

  • HIV / AIDS

  • Huntington’s disease

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Intractable seizures

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Neurodegenerative diseases

  • Neuropathies

  • Opioid use disorder for which conventional therapeutic interventions are contraindicated or ineffective, or for which adjunctive therapy is indicated in combination with primary therapeutic interventions

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain

  • Sickle cell anemia

  • Terminal illness

  • Tourette syndrome

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You’ll need documentation of your diagnosis, which will be reviewed and evaluated by a physician. 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, Jennifer Minkovich, a Philadelphia-area physician who offers remote consultations, said last year. “Really, anything from their health-care provider that simply states their name and diagnosis would be sufficient.”

How to register online for Pennsylvania’s program

If you qualify, you can register for the medical marijuana program online through the state 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. Your address needs to be exactly as it appears on your state ID.

“Be meticulous,” Minkovich said.

How to get a remote consultation

There isn’t an official list of registered doctors who are offering remote consultations. The state health department, however, provides a list of Pennsylvania physicians who are registered with the program.

“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,” former state health department press secretary Nate Wardle said last year.

Consultations are generally not covered by insurance, so you will have to pay for it out of pocket. If you’re a new patient, it will usually cost between $125 and $199, and take about 15 to 30 minutes.

Some organizations hold certification events, where they do individual consultations with a batch of patients on a particular day.

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The Pittsburgh-based All Life Advanced Care Centers, for example, has an online form where patients can sign up for a consultation and become certified, if they qualify, president Carla Mader said last year. That group began doing consultations remotely with physicians in late March 2020, and helps patients through the registration process.

What is a remote consultation like?

Remote consultations are “not much different than traditional office visits” for a medical marijuana certification, Minkovich said — they’re just by phone or video.

The consultation is just a discussion; “a physical exam is not required,” she said.

The practitioner will typically ask about your medical history, give you an overview of the state’s medical marijuana program, and tell you what to expect when visiting a dispensary.

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How to get your card after being certified

Once certified, you can log into your Medical Marijuana Registry account and pay for your medical marijuana card. The fee is $50; if you’re on a program like Medicaid and WIC, you could get that refunded. You should get your card in the mail within seven to 10 days.

Getting marijuana from an approved dispensary

Once you get your medical marijuana card, you can make a purchase at a dispensary. You can find one near you on the state health department’s website.

Pennsylvania dispensaries are operating differently now than before the pandemic, and some of those changes have become permanent. You can pickup curbside and buy up to a 90-day supply of cannabis at a time. (Previously, dispensaries needed to do their business indoors and could only sell a 30-day supply).

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