Pa. en­ters the med­i­cal mar­i­juana era

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - OPINION -

It likely has taken far too long, but Penn­syl­va­nia is fi­nally ready to en­ter the era of le­gal mar­i­juana. At least for medic­i­nal pur­poses. The Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture signed off on al­low­ing pa­tients with some spe­cific, med­i­cal, pain-related is­sues ac­cess to le­gal mar­i­juana in April of last year.

Al­most a year later, the first med­i­cal dis­pen­saries – where those pa­tients can legally ob­tain a va­ri­ety of pills, lo­tions, va­pors, tinc­tures, oint­ments and creams – will open this week.

In this area, the clos­est fa­cil­ity, Key­stone Shops, is lo­cated on Lan­caster Av­enue in Devon. The doors will open Satur­day. A sec­ond one will open in Sellersville, Bucks County. They will join four oth­ers slated to open this week in But­ler, Beth­le­hem, Pitts­burgh and Enola.

A fa­cil­ity in Malvern at the cor­ner of Plane­brook Road and Route 30 is ex­pected to open its doors later this month. Even­tu­ally two dis­pen­saries will be lo­cated in Delaware County, in Up­per Darby and Yeadon.

Two other dis­pen­saries, in Phoenixville and Lan­caster, last week got the green light to be­gin oper­a­tions. Their open­ing dates have not yet been set. It’s about time. Penn­syl­va­nia took a wind­ing, cir­cuitous route to this point, cer­tainly a new era in deal­ing with mar­i­juana.

First a few ground rules, and one fi­nal at­tempt to clear away the haze of some mis­in­for­ma­tion of those who sim­ply don’t un­der­stand what Penn­syl­va­nia is do­ing, hear the word mar­i­juana, and im­me­di­ately seize on vi­sions of “Reefer Mad­ness.”

This is not Colorado. Penn­syl­va­nia is not le­gal­iz­ing the sale or pos­ses­sion of cannabis. At least not yet, although there are more than a few peo­ple who be­lieve that would not nec­es­sar­ily be a bad idea.

The med­i­cal mar­i­juana be­ing dis­pensed at these fa­cil­i­ties will go only to those with a spe­cial per­mit given to them by a doc­tor. For the most part, those with pre­scrip­tions for med­i­cal mar­i­juana suf­fer from a va­ri­ety of ail­ments, in­clud­ing chil­dren who suf­fer from autism, as well as adults who deal with chronic pain, tremors and other mal­adies. Like what you might ask? Med­i­cal mar­i­juana is ap­proved to ease pain as­so­ci­ated with ALS, autism, can­cer, Chrohn’s Dis­ease, epilepsy, glau­coma, HIV/ AIDS, Hunt­ing­ton’s Dis­ease, in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease, in­tractable spas­tic­ity, Mul­ti­ple Sclero­sis, neu­ropathies, Parkin­son’s Dis­ease, Post-Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD), Sickle Cell Ane­mia and se­vere chronic or in­tractable pain.

Cit­i­zens will not be able to en­ter these dis­pen­saries and buy mar­i­juana – not med­i­cal mar­i­juana or “weed” that could be smoked. First they have to have a pre­scrip­tion. And even then these fa­cil­i­ties will not dis­pense pot that could be rolled, smoked or placed in your bong.

The path to this point in­volved sev­eral stages, in­clud­ing doc­tors look­ing to en­roll in the pro­gram, the state is­su­ing li­censes for fa­cil­i­ties that will grow the med­i­cal mar­i­juana, and fi­nally for dis­pen­saries where it can be placed into the hands of those in need.

So far Penn­syl­va­nia has ap­proved 10 dis­pen­saries and 10 grower/pro­ces­sor fa­cil­i­ties.

More than 17,000 pa­tients have reg­is­tered to par­tic­i­pate in the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, nearly 4,000 of those cer­ti­fied by a physi­cian. To date 708 physi­cians have reg­is­tered to take part in the pro­gram, and of those 376 have com­pleted train­ing to be­come cer­ti­fied prac­ti­tion­ers.

Gov. Tom Wolf, in not­ing the his­toric na­ture of the mo­ment, wisely again stressed this is not some­thing the state en­tered into lightly – or with­out good rea­son.

“Med­i­cal mar­i­juana is le­gal, safe and now avail­able to Penn­syl­va­ni­ans suf­fer­ing from 17 se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tions,” Wolf said. “We have de­vel­oped a reg­u­la­tory in­fra­struc­ture, ap­proved physi­cians as prac­ti­tion­ers, cer­ti­fied pa­tients to par­tic­i­pate, and launched a new in­dus­try to help thou­sands find re­lief from their de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­nesses.

The pro­gram is ex­pected to be fully op­er­a­tional by the end of the year across the state.

As usual in Penn­syl­va­nia, where pass­ing a bud­get, sell­ing al­co­hol and draw­ing Con­gres­sional maps tends to get bogged down in pol­i­tics and par­ti­san bick­er­ing, the road to le­gal use of med­i­cal mar­i­juana has been a long one.

But we’ve reached the end of the road.

And for those deal­ing with chronic, de­bil­i­tat­ing pain, hope­fully the start of a new life.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Jan. 10, 2018 photo Phil Gru­ver poses for a pho­to­graph with his med­i­cal mar­i­juana card in Em­maus, Pa.

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