This is part one of abc27’s two-part series on the accessibility of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Click here to view part two.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Medical marijuana has been expensive since before the pandemic. Now as Pennsylvanians lose their jobs, they’re struggling to buy it even more.

Prices vary depending on products. The advocate group NORML says some people can be spending up to $1,500 a month to get the treatments they need. The COVID crisis has made it all worse.

“I’m a brain cancer survivor,” said Daniel Massey of Carlisle.

That’s one of many reasons the 48-year-old uses medical marijuana.

“Cannabis helps control those seizures, which is what helped me get off some of the horrible seizure medicines that I had been on,” said Massey.

The adjunct professor admits he drained his savings to stay on the treatment.

He says if he can’t afford medical marijuana, he can’t imagine how anyone who has lost their jobs or is on disability can.

“The market price on the street in Carlisle, Pennsylvania is $240 an ounce,” said Massey. “The price comparison at the dispensary as 500-something dollars an ounce.”

NORML discovered that’s the case across the entire state.

“The average flower in the dispensary is costing as much, from what I’ve heard, about twice as much as what it’s costing on the streets,” said Jeff Riedy, the executive director of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of NORML.

NORML is a nonprofit which focuses on reforming marijuana laws. It hears from countless users unable to buy the medicine who end up going the illegal route to feel better.

They’d rather take that risk than risk the strong side effects of other medications.

In Pennsylvania, nearly half a million patients have applied for a medical marijuana card, but only about 300,00 are currently active.

“If they were serious about stopping the black market sales, they would have competitively priced product,” said Massey.

Competitively-priced product is something the state health department says it is working on.

“We know that with the way medical marijuana is currently viewed by the federal government, the fact that it’s not covered by insurance, the fact that you have to pay cash, we know that there are some challenges,” said Nate Wardle of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “But our goal is to get this medication into the hands of people who need it.”

The Keystone State has a market-based medical marijuana program that’s expensive for sellers to get into.

NORML says a couple of big companies run most of the distribution centers.

Advocates tell us those interested in getting into the business are often priced out of being licensees.

“Because of the application fee, because of the amount of bank account you had to prove you had,” said Riedy.

Less licenses translates to higher prices.

Still, the state insists things are moving in the right direction.

This month, the Department of Health announced it now has 100 dispensaries.

“And then we have our grower/processers who are constantly working to increase their space,” said Wardle.

Governor Tom Wolf did take action as soon as the pandemic started to make marijuana more accessible in other ways.

abc27 will tell you all about that, plus what’s being done to get those prices down on the state and federal levels, in part two of this story Wednesday morning on Daybreak.