Pennsylvania residents have had access to a statewide medical marijuana program since February but how can anyone sign up?
That's a question asked through Curious Philly, an Inquirer and Daily News platform for readers to ask questions about how the city and the region work.
The good news: It's easy enough that more than 90,000 Pennsylvanians have registered.
The process of receiving a medical marijuana card requires several steps before a patient can get cannabis meds from a dispensary, according to the Pa. Department of Health website.
To be eligible for a medical marijuana card, a patient must have one of 21 "serious health conditions" — a wide array of ailments from chronic pain to PTSD — that have been approved by the health department. New Jersey's program covers around 18 conditions including anxiety and Tourette syndrome. In April, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine approved medical marijuana as a therapy to treat opioid addiction, making the Keystone State among the first to do so.
Children who suffer from one of conditions can use cannabis products, but a caregiver must first register with the state to pick up the treatment. The process of becoming a certified caregiver includes a criminal background check.
Besides having a qualifying medical condition, patients must be residents of Pennsylvania or New Jersey to receive medical marijuana cards in their respective states. For both states, a card from a different state does not allow patients to get marijuana products at local dispensaries.
Patients may obtain medical marijuana cards only through the Department of Health. But to receive a card, a state-approved doctor must write a recommendation for the drug. (Since the federal government considers all forms of marijuana to be illegal, doctors can't use their DEA prescription pads). The patient needs an established relationship with the recommending physician. Lists of approved providers are available through the Department of Health websites in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Those who qualify for cannabis can begin the process of receiving a card by enrolling in the Patients and Caregivers Registry for their respective state. After creating a profile, patients may upload all necessary medical records along with the approved doctor's recommendation and pay for the card.
The fee for a medical card is $50 in Pennsylvania and $100 in New Jersey, with more payments needed for the marijuana itself. In New Jersey, patients and caregivers who are senior citizens, military veterans, or who qualify for certain state and federal assistance programs will be eligible to pay a fee of $20.The cost of the medicine varies with the type of treatment. It's more expensive than cannabis from the illicit markets, but it has been stringently tested in a lab and may be significantly more powerful. Dispensaries in Pennsylvania post full menus of medicines on their websites. In New Jersey, the dispensaries are just beginning to list their more limited wares.
In addition to cannabis flower for vaporization, the treatment is available in forms such as pills, oils, tinctures, and creams. In New Jersey, kids also qualify for edible versions of the drug, but this not yet an option in Pennsylvania.
Cannabis is available to those with cards at dispensaries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There are six "alternative treatment centers" in New Jersey, with six more on the way. According to the Pa. Department of Health, about 32 dispensaries are open across the state and another round of dispensaries permits will be approved before year's end.