As Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program gets closer to full implementation, what it's going to look like here is becoming clearer.
The law will allow those with specific medical conditions who are certified by a participating doctor to access some forms of medical marijuana, including pills, oils, vapor and liquid. That's expected to happen in the next five months.
The latest list shows three Lancaster County doctors participating in the program, up from two in the initial list. The new doctor is neurologist Heather Harle, who's an employee of Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine.
Lancaster General spokeswoman Mary Ann Eckard confirmed Harle's employment but did not respond to questions on whether the health system at large will take part in the program.
That's a key question, because health systems employ most of the doctors in this area; if they bar doctors from participating, it will be harder for patients here to get medical marijuana.
LNP has previously asked all the health systems in the area about their plans for medical marijuana and if they will dictate whether the doctors they employ participate in the program; none have responded definitively.
The first two doctors participating here are Dr. Livia Baublitz, whose independent practice in East Hempfield Township is called Verdant Health LLC, and Dr. David Simons, who's one of two physicians at Pain Management of Community Anesthesia Associates in Lititz.
Melonie Kotchey is co-founder of Compassionate Certification Centers USA, a Pennsylvania-based company that offers medical marijuana card visits for $199 and recently opened its first office, in the Pittsburgh area.
She said the company is putting names and numbers of prospective patients on a waiting list while seeking physicians to partner with across Pennsylvania, with aspirations of eventually serving every state that has legalized medical marijuana.
In the Lancaster area, she estimated were 800 to 900 people on that list, and said the company is in negotiations with four physicians.
“We're getting around 18 calls an hour," she said of the company's statewide waiting list, noting that it's thousands of people deep.
April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said it's aware of operations like Compassionate Certification Centers USA, but that patients don't have to go through them to participate in the program.
The required state registration for patients and caregivers is available at pa.gov/guides/pennsylvania-medical-marijuana-program/, she said, and the same website has the list of participating doctors, which is being updated as more join the program.
Hutcheson noted that registering as a caregiver requires a background check, which can take some time, and said she urges those planning to be caregivers to go ahead and start the registration process now.