Medical Cannabis in Pennsylvania Explained


Keri Marable

In 2016, Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana. This meant that that applicants with one of the qualifying 21 conditions could go to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website and have access to a list of physicians in Pennsylvania that can certify them to purchase medical marijuana in any of the dispensaries in the state.

If applicants have medical records to prove of their condition, they can be certified. The patient then has to pay the state of fee of $50 before they can be sent their card.
With that card and a Pennsylvania ID, they can then go into a dispensary, have a consultation with a pharmacist, and then be able to access the medical marijuana.
To be able to certify people for medical marijuana, physicians take educational courses that are offered with a minimum of 4 hours of courses. Then they have to pass a test to be certified and then their credentials will be sent to the state and the state will list you on the website.

Currently in Bucks County, there are 79 approved physicians. Dr. John Sabatini of NatureDocs in Bristol is one of them.
Dr. John Sabatini has been in family practice for 30 years which ultimately lead to him advocating for medical marijuana.
“Everyone in Family Practice has a group of patients that you feel like you want to help, these are patients that have had numerous doctor valuations and numerous surgeries, they’ve been on tons of medications and they just have a very poor quality of life,”

Sabatini continued, “Mainstream medicine has failed these people. People can’t enjoy quality of life that they deserve to have and there was never anything you could do for these people. You can always increase their medications, you can give them stronger painkillers, but that’s just digging a deeper hole.”
Sabatini was first interested in medical marijuana because he saw it as an alternative for the kinds of patients he works on.
“Certifying people to be able to use medical marijuana in order to give these people a better quality of life and so far it looks like it’s been really successful,” said Sabatini.

When asked how the community has taken to NatureDocs, Sabatini said, “We’ve been generally well- accepted, there is this need in the community for more medical professionals to prescribe it and we’ve really been welcomed into the community and we have gotten a lot of positive feedback, our practice here really has been growing.”
However, Sabatini explained that there has been some push back.
“The biggest obstacle that we have met is when people think of marijuana, they think of people getting high, getting wasted, and not being productive members of society. That notion has come from recreational type marijuana that is high THC, that makes people high and changes they’re thinking,” Sabatini continued, “Medical marijuana has much more CBD and much less THC so it’s not getting you high. It’s giving you anti-inflammatories, giving you pain relief, and it’s making you feel better, we’re really seeing a big change in people’s attitudes towards it and especially when it strikes home with one of their loved ones has an issue where they need to use it.”
Federally, the United States sees Marijuana as a “Schedule 1” drug, which is in the same category as heroin and LSD. Schedule 1 are drugs that have no medical benefit whatsoever and are drugs often abused.

When asked how he felt about the scheduling of marijuana, Sabatini said he believes it needs to change, “There is a place for this medication. It certainly shouldn’t be a schedule 1. We have seen that medical marijuana has helped a lot of people and has helped a lot of conditions,”
Sabatini continued, As time goes on and, now that there are many institutions that are conducting some medical marijuana research, I think once we see the results of these trials and we see how it could help, many more people will see the benefits that medical marijuana gives and won’t be in such opposition to the passage of medical marijuana laws.”
Sabatini went on to say, “Marijuana was put into that schedule many years ago and the drugs in that schedule are drugs that high abuse, marijuana has not shown to have a high possibility of abuse. Its abuse potential is less than alcohol, less than tobacco.”

One important issue with the scheduling of marijuana is the costs for medical users.
“The problem is that insurance companies have to abide by federal guidelines and because marijuana is illegal federally insurance companies are really prohibited from covering it,”
Sabatini continued, “There’s always going to be people that are going to have issues with however much it costs, I know a lot of physicians out there trying to help their patients to have access to medical marijuana, but in the end it is a cash business and it’s going to be that way for the foreseeable future until it’s legalized at the federal level.”
Sabatini also explained why medical marijuana is a better alternative to various medications on the market, “Medical marijuana in itself is not a dangerous drug. No one has ever died from an overdose of medical marijuana unlike opioids.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Pennsylvania is ready for recreational marijuana. All of their products are 99.9% pure CBD and do not include THC.
“Personally, I use a CBDLuxe pen daily and I have cut nicotine consumption down significantly. CBD products provide a healthier alternative to many other substances used by society to break such addictions,” said Tom Hackett, the company’s representative for the Philadelphia area.
CBD products are a good option for those who shouldn’t use marijuana, but medical marijuana is still necessary for them. Sabatini broke down the science, “We see in the natural marijuana plant there’s the cannabinoids- mainly the two big ones are CBD and THC- there’s also terpenes in there and there’s at least a hundred different types of cannabinoids in there and they make a mix that works synergistically together.”

He continued, “The THC + CBD + the terpenes work much better than any of these substances by themselves. People are using CBD oils and different CBD products, but to use the actual medical marijuana that does have some THC in there, that does have these terpenes in it will give them a much better benefit.”

“There’s a lot of people who are using recreational marijuana that I think should not. Teenagers, kids, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and people with schizophrenia shouldn’t be using marijuana,” Sabatini said.
He continued, “There’s some evidence to show people with heart disease and heart attacks shouldn’t be using marijuana. It’s not something that you can use without consequences, so I don’t feel that the public is informed enough to be able to make those decisions of who shouldn’t be using it.”
As of right now, there are CBD only products on the market. One company in specific called CBDLuxe is a Colorado-based company that sells vape pens, tinctures, inhalers, sprays and creams.