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As Pennsylvania considers medical cannabis, where do MDs fit in?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering legislation to make medical marijuana available to residents with certain health conditions. If the bill passes both houses, there is a good chance Gov. Tom Wolf will sign. The bill sets an effective date for 60 days from the governor's signature, but it could be a while before patients will get relief.

The state will need time to establish the proposed Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing and then to write regulations for distributors and sellers. Board members will be nominated by the governor, and that process alone could take months.

As the bill is written now, the board would include a few representatives from the health care community. Someone from a hospital, two physicians, two registered nurses and a licensed pharmacist would join three representatives from related state agencies and two members of the public. The emphasis is clearly on the medicine in medical marijuana.

The role that physicians play in prescribing the drug is described in some detail. For example, the physician needs to be licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and may, depending on how the regulations shake out, need to register with the Department of Health. It isn't clear if the department will institute a vetting process or if physicians will merely have to notify the department that they will be prescribing cannabis.

In its current form, the bill would not allow just any doctor to prescribe, either. Only physicians that "have expertise" in one of 10 specific conditions will be permitted to prescribe. Whether expertise is the same as a medical specialty is unclear.

The qualifying conditions include the usual suspects -- cancer, epilepsy, ALS and the like -- though, notably, glaucoma and chronic pain do not appear on the list. One of the co-sponsors of the bill may offer an amendment that would eliminate the list of eligible conditions.

We'll continue this in our next post.

Sources:

Trib Live, "Doctors debate caution vs. medical need for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania," Melissa Daniels, Feb. 25, 2015

The General Assembly of Pennsylvania, Senate Bill 3 (as introduced), Session of 2015

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