Breaking Cannabis Down: Q&A with Dr. Stacy Lane

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.

Lawmakers must make comprehensive LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections a priority.

Today, Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation joined a coalition of more than 150 local, state, and national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) organizations in calling on Congress to swiftly pass the Equality Act. 

The Equality Act, introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a landmark nondiscrimination and civil rights bill that would update existing federal laws to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.  It has broad and deep support across lines of political party, demographics, and geography with 83 percent of Americans saying they favor LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

“Throughout the commonwealth, LGBTQ individuals families, friends, business owners and faith leaders have shown their support for the Equality Act,” said Sarah Rosso, Executive Director of Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation.  “This legislation is long overdue and is an important step forward to make sure all Americans have equal protections under the law.  We are committed to mobilizing communities across Western Pennsylvania to make sure our lawmakers know this is about people, not politics”.   

Discrimination is still commonplace for LGBTQ Americans, including here in Western Pennsylvania.  Opponents of LGBTQ equality continue to file discriminatory bills in our commonwealth and across the country in an attempt to undermine existing protections in adoption, marriage and access to basic public services and businesses.  According to a 2020 study, one in three LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination in the previous year, including three in five transgender Americans.  The Equality Act would ensure that all LGBTQ Americans can live, work and access public spaces free from discrimination, no matter what state or county they call home.  

For more information email: info@hughlane.org or call: (412)-973-5053 

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Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization working to improve the health of LGBTQ+ and HIV communities across western Pennsylvania.

2020: End of year summary


Our 2020 started with excitement, hopefulness and learning together as a team at Creating Change in “Dallas, Tx”. We returned ready to tackle the year starting with increasing support for LGBTQ+ youth and families, and expanding in-person services with our official launch event – Healthy Minds, Healthy Hearts on 3/15/20.  Of course, we know that 2020 had different plans. I am so proud of the work our team accomplished this year.

We leaned in at a time when our LGBTQ+ and HIV communities needed us most. We launched a brand-new food and resource access program to make sure our community members had a safe and affirming way to get what they needed. We worked with the Family Literacy Program to bring LGBTQ+ representation to virtual programming.  Partnered with Sewing Angels to make sure frontline child welfare staff had masks. Joined conversations with national partners to provide programming and to share our expertise. We’re proud of how we’ve been able to push health equity for our LGBTQ+ and HIV communities during this time, and were able to secure a few wins alongside our statewide partners.

We will continue to work each and every day to create spaces and opportunities for LGBTQ+ and HIV community members to be their authentic, courageous selves, assuring healthy minds and healthy hearts. 

From all of us at HLWF, we wish you health and joy in the New Year.

Sarah Rosso  


Giving Tuesday & World AIDS Day – December 1st, 2020

Today starts the annual Giving Tuesday tradition in a year unlike any other. This day also happens to fall on World AIDS day this year. 2020 has been a lot! For many of us, our mental health and our financial health have taken significant hits, and we have had to tap deep into our own resilience to try and navigate this pandemic as best as we can. And while this is true for everyone, this is especialy the case for our LGBTQ+ and HIV community members.

While we are finding ways to navigate this current pandemic let us not forget on this day how our systems did not and often still do not show up for those we have lost and remember today, those living with HIV, and the legacy of a failure to respond to our communities to address a health crisis. We have much work to do to create equitable systems rooted in justice that do not disproportionally impact our communities, especially Queer and Trans People of Color. Let us all commit during this season of giving to work toward removing structural barriers as well as stigma to fight against HIV and support those who are living with HIV. Our organization was founded in memory of “Huey”, who lost his battle with HIV. Today we remember all those we have lost and firmly commit to improving the health of our LGBTQ+ and HIV communities. We will continue to work each and every day to create spaces and opportunities for LGBTQ+ and HIV community members to be their authentic, courageous selves.

I am so proud of the work of our team during this year. We leaned in at a time when many other resources were closing to make sure our LGBTQ+ and HIV communities got what they needed. We quickly adapted all of our services and even launched new programs to address gaps and meet emerging needs. Check out our website and our #GivingTuesday profile to learn more about all the ways we’ve helped this year.

While we know many of you are not able to give as you normally could, we want to encourage those of you who can to please do so today. Your gift goes further today with matches from Facebook, Foundations, and the Hugh Lane Board of Directors.

Help us make sure every person who reaches out for assistance this holiday season is able to get what they need. Whether that’s a winter holiday meal, to build community at one of our events, to recieve PPE kits with blankets and handwarmers, or to help an LGBTQ+ young person or senior recieve a needed gift this season from our virtual giving tree. Every dollar you donate will go directly toward supporting our holiday outreach.

Please consider making a donation today. ANY amount helps!

B.E.S.T.I.E.E Project Announcement


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 11th, 2020

Contact: Sarah Rosso Phone: (412) 973-5053
B.E.S.T.I.E.E. PROJECT for LGBTQIA+ YOUTH ACROSS WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA
(Pittsburgh)–Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation is excited to announce the launch of the B.E.S.T.I.E.E. Project. Building Equitable Solutions to Improve Emotional Environments. This new three-year project began October 1st, 2020 to support LGBTQIA+ youth across the commonwealth.
 
Prior to COVID-19, queer youth were at higher risk than their heterosexual peers for depression, anxiety, suicide, and other serious mental health issues. The closure of schools, forced isolation with unsupportive adults, and lack of access to affirming community resources has only made managing stressors more difficult. It is important that LGBTQIA+ youth know where to find support within the community. 
 
B.E.S.T.I.E.E. project will provide supportive strategies and solutions to address suicide, substance use, sexual health and overall wellbeing for LGBTQIA+ youth across Western Pennsylvania. We will be collaborating with a variety of local and regional organizations along with our project partners in Erie, Beaver and Washington Counties.    
 
Today, National Coming Out Day, many LGBTQ+ youth will come out to their friends and family. Inviting folks to celebrate their authenticity and individuality. While some will be accepted others will face rejections. It is important that LGBTQ+ youth know that they are valid despite what others may say. 
 
“We are dedicated to creating inclusive and accessible mental health support for youth, one that decreases suicidal planning and action through social connectedness and meeting their physical, mental, and sexual health needs. As a community, it is imperative that we work together and help LGBTQ+ youth build a life worth living.”
 Coley Alston, MPH, CPH Program Director at the foundation.
 
For more information email: 
info@hughlane.org or call: (412)-973-5053 
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Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization working to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ and HIV communities across western Pennsylvania.



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Giving Tuesday – 5/5/2020

During this unprecedented time, we have seen an 800% increase in requests and have adapted our services to meet the needs of our LGBTQ and HIV community members. We need your help to continue our COVID-19 emergency response for the remainder of 2020 to assure that all our community members have access to food and can stay connected by maintaining their cell phone service. Check out our #GivingTuesday page with Give Big Pittsburgh. You can also read client testimonials and contribute online through our donate page. https://www.givebigpittsburgh.com/organizations/hugh-lane-wellness-foundation

Our COVID Emergency support is available to all of our LGBTQ+ and HIV community members simply by reaching out to us or one of the many organizations collaborating with us during this time. Check out our COVID-19 page for more information on how we’re supporting our community.