A Guide to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program for Medical Practitioners

The role of the medical practitioner under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program is to certify patients who satisfy the legal requirements for use of medical marijuana under the Commonwealth’s Medical Marijuana Act (the “Act”). Only after receiving a certification from a licensed medical practitioner can a patient or caregiver obtain an identification card that allows them to receive medical marijuana at a licensed dispensary. The Act and the Department of Health (“DOH”) Regulations provide guidance on how medical practitioners are to register with DOH, and procedures for certifying patients to use medical marijuana.

First, only physicians who are included in a registry established by DOH can certify patients to use medical marijuana. The registry will be available on DOH’s website and will include the medical practitioner’s name, business address and credentials. To be eligible for inclusion in the registry, physicians must:

  • Submit an application to DOH. (Information on the application process can be found on the Department of Health website.)
  • Provide documentation of credentials, training and experience as required by DOH. (For a list of all of the application requirements see: Physicians and Practitioners; Temporary Regulations 28 Pa. Code § 1181.24 (2017).
  • Successfully complete a four-hour training course on scientific research regarding the risks and benefits associated with medical marijuana. The training course must contain the following:
    • Relevant provisions of the Act;
    • General information about medical marijuana Federal and State law;
    • Recent scientific research on the endocannabinoid system and medical marijuana;
    • Recommendations for continuing patient use of medical marijuana for several potential treatment options;
    • Information regarding use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program; and
    • Best practices for recommending the form and dosage of medical marijuana.

Second, a physician must satisfy the following requirements before issuing a certification to use medical marijuana to a patient or caregiver:

  • The physician has a valid Pennsylvania license to practice medicine;
  • The physician has been approved by DOH for inclusion in the registry;
  • The physician has determined the patient has a qualifying serious medical condition and included the condition in the patient’s health care record. For a comprehensive list of “Serious medical conditions” see: Medical Marijuana Act, 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 10231.103 (2016).
  • The patient is under the physician’s continuing care for the serious medical condition;
  • The physician has reviewed the patient’s prior medical history as documented in the patient’s health care records if the records are available for review;
  • The physician has reviewed the prescription drug monitoring program to determine the controlled substance history of the patient; and
  • The physician determines that the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the use of medical marijuana.

After issuing a certification, a physician has an ongoing responsibility to notify DOH in writing if they have reason to know that a patient:

  • No longer has the serious medical condition for which the certification was issued;
  • Would no longer receive a medical benefit from medical marijuana; or
  • Is deceased.

DOH will develop a standard certification form, which will be available to practitioners upon request. Certifications for use of medical marijuana must include the following information:

  • The patient’s name, date of birth, e-mail, phone number and address;
  • The specific serious medical condition for which medical marijuana is being prescribed to treat;
  • A statement that the patient is under practitioner’s continuing care for the serious medical condition;
  • A statement of the length of time that the practitioner believes the use of medical marijuana will be beneficial to the patient (maximum 1 year);
  • The date of the consultation;
  • The date of issuance of the certification;
  • The physicians’ name, address, signature and phone number;
  • A statement of the dosage, recommendations, requirements and limitations for the patient’s appropriate form of prescribed use of medical marijuana, including the recommendation that only a medical professional employed by the dispensary and working at the facility consult with the patient regarding appropriate dosage and form of medical marijuana;
  • A statement that the patient is terminally ill, if applicable;
  • Any information the practitioner believes may be relevant to the patient’s use of medical marijuana;
  • A statement that the practitioner has explained the potential risks and benefits of the use of medical marijuana to the patient and has documented in the patient’s health care record that the explanation has been provided to the patient and informed consent has been obtained; and
  • A statement that a false statement made by the practitioner in the patient certification is punishable under the applicable provisions of 18 Pa.C.S. Chapter 49 (relating to falsification and indemnification).

Lastly, the Act and DOH Regulations restrict physicians from engaging in the following activities:

  • Accepting money from prospective or current patients to receive a certification, or from medical marijuana organizations or businesses to certify a patient (However, accepting a fee for service of the examination is acceptable);
  • Holding a direct or economic interest in a medical marijuana organization;
  • Being designated as a caregiver for a patient who has been issued a certification;
  • Receiving or providing medical marijuana samples;
  • Advertising services as a physician who can certify a patient for medical marijuana; and
  • Issuing a certification for their own use or for use of their family or household members.

The Regulated Substances Blog is intended to keep readers current on developments regarding medical cannabis legalization and regulation and is not intended to be legal advice.  If you have any questions, please contact the author Peter Murphy at pmurphy@eckertseamans.com.  You may also contact Daniel Clearfield at dclearfield@eckertseamans.com or any other member of our Regulated Substances Group.