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Without enough doctors, medical pot will fall flat

The stress test continues for Pennsylvania’s fledgling medical marijuana program, which has struggled so far this year with a shortage of product.

In 2016 Pennsylvania legalized the use of medical marijuana for patients with 17 specific conditions. Patients must receive certification from a doctor — who also must be trained and certified — before they can acquire medical marijuana legally.

Demand for medical marijuana here has been fierce. CY+, formerly known as Cresco Yeltrah, said earlier this week that its dispensary on Pillow Street is serving 50 to 60 patients a day. Most patients are more than 50 years old, and most spend about $170 per visit on processed marijuana products.

Weeks ago, when news broke that some dispensaries had bare shelves and were lacking product, the concern was that patient demand was outpacing supplies of processed medical marijuana.

Those concerns haven’t evaporated — especially with an advisory panel of physicians kicking around whether to recommend the state expand approved conditions, and perhaps even open the law up to allow dry leaf sales. Pennsylvania is one of only two state’s to approve medical marijuana but prohibit sales of dry leaf products.

We have another festering concern to add to the mix: are there enough certified doctors to meet patient demand? What about to overcome the stigma, since the federal government stubbornly clings to its classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug?

With health care behemoths like UPMC announcing their own medical marijuana guidelines for doctors in their network, it is only a matter of time before the drug gains even more popularity and acceptance. That’s a good thing, because medical marijuana shows real promise as an alternative to traditional, opioid-based pain treatments. But it also comes with a caveat: doctors aren’t required to participate in the certification program, and with just over 400 certified so far, there’s reason to be concerned that eventually there won’t be enough doctors to go around.

In Butler County there are currently 10 doctors certified to prescribe medical marijuana — double the number able to prescribe it at the beginning of the year.

One, Dr. Bryan Doner of Compassionate Certification Center on East Cunningham Street, says he sees 25 or 30 patients per day who are seeking a certification to obtain the drug.

“It’s a little more than I expected,” Doner told the Eagle.

If the state is going to continue to ramp up its medical marijuana program, as seems likely, then the focus should be ensuring that there is enough product, and doctors, to satisfy demand.

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