For Marijuana Awareness month we caught up with Dr. Stacy Lane. We asked Dr. Lane to help us understand the benefits of becoming and medical marijuana patient and what that process might look like for Pennsylvanian residents.

Q: What are the first steps someone should take when trying to become a medical marijuana patient?

The easiest way to become a medical marijuana patient would be to ask your primary care doctor if they can certify you. There’s special training that a doctor had to take to be able to certify patients in Pennsylvania to receive a medical marijuana card and not all doctors have taken that training. Central Outreach can certify medical marijuana patients for all conditions.

Another easy way to get certified for medical marijuana is to contact one of the medical marijuana certification centers. Compassionate certification centers, compassionate care centers will all certify people As long as they have evidence of a certifying medical condition. Some of these organizations will take your word for the history of your diagnosis while others will require you to show proof from either your primary care doctor, your psychiatrist, or even your medication bottles to treat that condition. Be sure to ask before you pay for an appointment what documentation the doctor will require.

Q: What should someone do if they need medicinal marijuana but can’t afford to pay the application fee associated with it? Are there local resources that will help alleviate the cost?

As for payment of the $50 fee that the state requires for yearly certification, there are limited resources to cover this fee. The state does allow for a fee reduction to $25 if you are on Medicaid through the state of Pennsylvania.

Central Outreach Wellness Center through the help of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation does help with this $25 fee for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Though there has been talking and some legislation in place to create a conduit to get free/reduced-cost marijuana for patients that can’t afford it, this has not come to fruition as of yet. Some dispensaries do offer discounts to disabled people, the elderly, or veterans.

Q: For those who may still need convincing, who are some of the folks who benefit from the use of medical marijuana?

Lots of medical conditions can be helped through the use of medical marijuana. Specifically, those with a history of opiate addiction can greatly benefit from the harm reduction use of medical marijuana which serves as a safer escape from cravings, stress, and pain.

Chronic pain is a difficult illness to treat due to the limited effectiveness of opiate pain medication, tolerance, and overdosed risk. Medical marijuana does not have the overdose risk and death risk that we’ve seen associated with the use of opiates. The use of medical marijuana does not require a person to undergo tox screens, attend monthly appointments at doctors offices, or suffer through the constant trauma of the medical system interrogation that receiving a controlled substance from a doctors office requires with random pill counts, urine tox screens, monthly office visits, etc. You are in control of your use and thus your pain and that in itself can be empowering.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and general anxiety are also illnesses that can greatly benefit from the use of medical marijuana and again, marijuana does not have to over-dose risk of benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Ativan making it a much safer alternative to these addictive options.

Q: Since medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania, does this mean I can smoke a blunt in my car as long as I have my medical patient card?

It is illegal to smoke marijuana in Pennsylvania. It can be legally vaped, taken as pills, consumed as a tincture, or topically. Smoking marijuana, especially in public or in your car, creates much more smell and can attract police. Stop doing it. It’s not worth it. If you want to smoke marijuana you should do it in the safety and privacy of your own home.

It’s especially illegal to consume marijuana while driving and we are seeing people get DUIs frequently from smoking in their cars. The DUI laws are somewhat behind here and a person can be charged with a DUI for as little as 1ng/ml of marijuana in their system. THC can linger in the body for weeks, making it especially risky for a medical cannabis user to drive at all. We are seeing people charged with DUIs have to get alcohol breathalyzers put on their vehicles to maintain drivers’ licenses which makes absolutely no sense. PA law is again behind here, and we are seeing legal cannabis users, especially people of color, continue to be arrested and charged in the criminal justice system. I recommend no medical cannabis user consume or carry their cannabis in their car and if they do have to, consider keeping it in the dispensary packaging and out of reach while driving.

Locally in Pittsburgh, and other major PA cities (Philly, Scranton, Erie, York, and a few others) marijuana possession under 30 grams is decriminalized and carries only a small fine. In the rest of the state possession of fewer than 30 grams of marijuana continues to be a misdemeanor crime with a maximum fine of 500 dollars and 30 days in jail, while having over 30 grams carries a penalty of a maximum of 6-12 months jail and a 5k fine. We are seeing these small towns criminally charge people driving across the state with small amounts of marijuana UNLESS they have a legal medical marijuana card.

All marijuana must be stored and carried in its original packaging that is labeled from the dispensary as proof it is legally obtained.

Q: Since I have my patient card, can my employer fire me for testing positive for THC?

There are PA state laws in place to protect employees from being fired for legal use of medical cannabis. Being fired for having a tox screen + for THC is a form of discrimination. The Medical Marijuana Act provides: No employer may discharge, threaten, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee regarding an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location, or privileges solely based on such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.

However, jobs CAN fire you for being under the influence of medical marijuana while at work or for performance-related problems related to marijuana use.

Federal job positions, jobs that require the workers to safely use heavy equipment machinery or have a commercial driver’s license continue to be gray areas. Generally, marijuana use is not accepted in these jobs and this case law is still actively being written. I’m not a lawyer and not the best source of legal advice, but I generally discourage my patients from pursuing these jobs unless they are prepared to stop medical cannabis.

Also, be aware that PA is a right-to-work state, allowing an employer to fire a person without cause or choose not to hire someone for any reason. We are seeing people being overlooked for jobs if they have THC in their pre-employment drug screen and because they are not yet employed the anti-discrimination laws are not able to be enforced. I recommend that my patients stop medical cannabis use for 30 days before a new employment opportunity in these cases. Again, this is a fault in the legal system that workers’ rights are not protected and evidence of continuous stigma against medical marijuana.

Q: Although marijuana has been legalized medicinally the ACLU reports that Black communities are still over-policed and arrested for possession at an alarming rate.  What is a special consideration that Black people who are certified medical marijuana patients should consider?

Black people are disproportionately policed due to structural racism, especially in their use of marijuana. I encourage all of my patients, especially those of color, to get a legal medical marijuana card and carry it on them at all times, and to consume marijuana only in the privacy and safety of their homes. I also encourage ALL those charged with unjust marijuana-related crimes to fight those charges legally rather than take a plea and be burdened with a future criminal record. We need to fight together to force justice for all people, especially people of color that are already fighting structural racism in their daily lives. We can not settle for injustice.

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