Once Pennsylvania approves doctors to see patients seeking medical marijuana, Compassionate Certification Centers will be ready to open up franchise-like offices, including one in Scranton, to get people into the state program.
Dr. Bryan Doner, co-founder of the company, said he anticipates having between 20 and 25 locations statewide within the next year and a half.
“It’s very similar to an urgent care center. They function similar to any outpatient healthcare clinic,” said Doner Friday.
The state is in the process of registering doctors to participate in its program and certify people to receive medical marijuana grown, processed and dispensed by licensed facilities beginning early next year.
“I’m going to be one of them,” said Doner. He said he will be working at a few of the company’s offices in the Pittsburgh area.
The company will attempt to staff its offices with local doctors from a broad range of specialties, said Doner.
Doner, 41, who practices emergency medicine in the greater Pittsburgh area, said the Scranton office is in the works and, depending upon supply and demand, the company would be interested in another office in Wilkes-Barre. The department issued permits for 27 dispensaries and 12 growing and processing operations statewide, including Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
The doctors must undergo training in order to be participate, and they’ll be listed in a state registry under the law that Gov. Tom Wolf signed on April 17, 2016.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Health has not yet approved physicians as practitioners in the program,” said April Hutcheson, a department spokeswoman.
Still to be compiled by the state is a registry of patients and caregivers who would be able to visit a Compassionate Certification Center.
But Doner said approximately 2,000 people have already registered with the company to participate in the state program.
Doner explained that people who suffer from one of the 17 applicable medical conditions can schedule appointments at one of the centers where they would be seen and evaluated by a state registered doctor. The doctor would write a certification letter and submit it to the state that would issue a medical marijuana identification card at a cost of $50 that’s good for a year to be used at a licensed dispensary.
The company charges a $199 fee for an initial visit, $75 for a follow up and $125 for renewal to receive a new ID card. Doner described the fees as in the middle after looking at the low and high ranges for services in different states with medical marijuana programs.
Doner said the company has a nonprofit that will provide assistance to patients in need and cannot pay the full costs.
The state program will be a cash-based business because the doctors cannot write prescriptions and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has neither approved nor recognized the marijuana plant as medicine. Additionally, the federal government lists marijuana as a controlled substance, but under guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Justice it’s unlikely participants in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program will be prosecuted, according to the state Department of Health.