This is part two of abc27’s two-part series on the accessibility of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Click here to view part one.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Efforts are underway to help the more than 275,000 Pennsylvanians who have active medical marijuana certifications afford treatments.
Advocates are working to make sure those approved for medical marijuana don’t have to turn to the streets to find relief.
“Either the state is here to help people or they’re here to make money,” said Daniel Massey, a medical marijuana patient from Carlisle.
Massey is a brain cancer survivor who relies on medical marijuana to function.
The professor is not happy about it, but he’s drained his bank accounts to continue buying from the state.
“I’m forced to buy from them in order to be legal,” said Massey.
Other patients abc27 spoke with admit they turn to dealers instead, prompting worries about quality and safety.
They did not feel comfortable being interviewed on camera but are certified with one of the 23 qualifying conditions for the PA Medical Marijuana Program.
These patients don’t participate, because they don’t have the hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars, to get their treatments.
“We have to come up with something equitable so that patients can afford it,” said Jeff Riedy, the executive director of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of NORML.
The nonprofit NORML works to reform marijuana laws.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health says it’s taken steps to increase medical marijuana accessibility, especially during the pandemic.
When the state began to shut down, the Governor labeled the industry essential. He’s since allowed for remote consultations and curbside pickup.
“Then also a waiver of the limits that allow for medical marijuana to only be dispensed for 30 days, more moving towards a 90-day supply,” said Nate Wardle of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Even so, all of those waivers don’t make the products cheaper.
“There’s not a competitive pricing scale going on right now,” said Riedy.
Because marijuana is still a schedule one drug, insurance companies don’t cover it.
There is an effort to change the federal government’s stance, but it’s taking time.
On the state level, the Department of Health is putting together a program to help people afford their treatments.
“We have to pay back all of the funding that was used to start the program and once that occurs, we will be working to start that fund,” said Wardle.
Still, there is no clear answer on how close Pennsylvania is to achieving that goal.
PA has a Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, which evaluates and makes changes to the program.
“Made up of officials from the Department of Health,” said Wardle. “Made up of patient advocates. It’s made up of doctors and physicians. It’s made up of members of law enforcement.”
Despite the challenges and frustration, Massey credits medical marijuana for saving his life and giving him a better quality of life.
He’s currently cancer-free, and is able to bike, hike and continue teaching.
Those are things he hopes others will be able to do, once they too get access to medical marijuana.
“In my personal opinion, it is a blatant crime against humanity to have any restrictions on cannabis.”
Even with payment challenges, records show sales have actually increased in the last three months.
Sales have surpassed one billion dollars this year, showing that there are some patients figuring out a way to foot the bill for their treatments.