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Are people abusing the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania?

How easy is it to get approved for a card? Are people taking advantage of the system? Newswatch 16's Elizabeth Worthington looked into it.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Medical marijuana is a rapidly growing industry in Pennsylvania.

A medical marijuana card company called Elevate Holistics provides service to several states, including Pennsylvania. Its website includes topics such as:

The website offers advice for what people should say so the doctor "doesn't suspect they just want weed to get high."

"Name one industry where people aren't taking advantage of the system?" said Stephen Sterman, head of Elevate Holistics.  "It's not possible. People are people, and they're going to take advantage of the opportunity that's in front of them,"

We also got a different take from Dr. Steven Evans, a pain management doctor based in the Reading area.

Dr. Evans wants more oversight for doctors like him who approve people for medical marijuana cards. He also wants continuing education. He says to get certified as a provider of medical marijuana, all he had to do was take a four-hour course. That was about four years ago.

"There's nothing that scrutinizes me as a provider who's certified people. So, there's very little quality control on the physician, and I just think those kinds of things should be tightened up before we're going to say this is truly a medical program and not just kind of some kind of ruse that allows people who want to get marijuana legally so they can just use it recreationally."

In Pennsylvania, you have to suffer from one of these qualifying conditions in order to be eligible. 

Anxiety was added to that list in 2019. 

Dr. Evans says about 40 percent of his patients now want medical marijuana to treat anxiety. However, he won't approve them unless he sees documentation from a psychiatrist.

But he's been told by patients who have gone to other doctors that this isn't always the case—not just with anxiety but other conditions like chronic pain.

He says that's especially true after the pandemic, with so many doctors seeing their patients virtually.

"I think that for many people, it's just a moneymaker. You know, they're not really passionate about this modality, this alternative medication as a way for people to manage their issues more organically and less pharmaceutically."

Dr. Evans is passionate about it because he's seen the benefits in his patients. He consistently seeks out new research and information about medical marijuana.

"But no one's forcing me to do that," he says.

Here's Stephen Stearman's opinion:

"In my mind, if someone's going to try to use cannabis to help them get relief, then who am I to say that they don't have that thing? Or, because they're going to use it recreationally, and this is the way that they defend themselves from the legal predations of a state."

"What the doctor prescribes, what the doctor says to that patient, is on the doctor. What the patient does with those products once they talk to the doctor, and once they talk to the dispensary, that's on them," he continued.

More information on the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania can be found here.

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