HARRISBURG — Pennsylvanians moved a giant step closer Wednesday to being able to get marijuana to help treat medical conditions, as the state announced the launch of its patient and caregiver registry.
The Health Department said a pilot program was successful, leading the agency to start taking applications from people to participate in the system through a new dedicated website.
Patients are expected to be able to obtain the medication by May 1, the current target date by which the department has said it will announce its availability statewide.
The news comes on the heels of a second grower-processor being approved to operate in White Haven. The approval of a grower-processor in Brookville was announced earlier this month. Ten more are expected to get the OK to start planting seeds.
The Health Department also announced more than 100 physicians have been approved to participate, a list that’s expected to grow, as nearly 200 more are in the pipeline to take the required state training.
Doctor participation is considered critical to the program’s success because they must certify patients’ illnesses before the patients can obtain an identification card from the Health Department.
A 2016 state law gave people under a doctor’s care access to medical marijuana if a physician says they suffer from an illness on a list of 17 qualifying conditions .
Those conditions include AIDS, autism, cancer, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease.
None of the dispensaries where patients will be able to buy medical marijuana have so far received the state’s approval.
At a news conference to announce the developments, Adrienne Leasa of Hummelstown said daily cannabis use has helped with conditions she described as late-stage HIV and depression. The state program will further improve her life, Leasa said.
“It will make me no longer a criminal, first of all,” Leasa said. “Second, it will make it easier to find specialized products that are not always available on the black market.”
State Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, a prime sponsor of the law, said it was “surreal” to see the program so far along. He praised the efforts of grassroots activists who pushed for years to get the Legislature to act, many of them parents of sick children.
“We are on the verge of getting the program up and running and I am looking forward to when this valuable medicine — and I mean medicine — will be in patients’ hands,” Folmer said.
The law permits marijuana in the form of pills, oils, vapor or liquid but not in plant form, and patients may not grow their own.
For now, the state has issued 324 “safe harbor” letters that insulate parents from criminal charges if they are obtaining the drug for their sick child.