EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — With a slight change coming to the appearance of Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana cards, many still wonder how to qualify for the program, and if so what that entails.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) states marijuana is currently legal within the commonwealth, however only medically, not recreationally. Therefore, those who qualify for the medicinal marijuana program must have a ‘serious medical condition,’ live within Pennsylvania, and be certified by a doctor who participates in the program.

Officals say it’s important to remember that it’s legal to possess and consume medical marijuana in Pennsylvania as long as you have a valid card and are registered with the program. However, it is still illegal to have any part of the plant or marijuana products for recreational or non-medical purposes. You can be charged with illegal possession if you do not have a Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana card.

According to the DOH, those who qualify for the program must have one of the following 23 ‘serious medical conditions:’

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis;
  • Anxiety disorders;
  • Autism;
  • Cancer, including remission therapy;
  • Crohn’s disease;
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the central nervous system (brain-spinal cord) with an objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and other associated neuropathies;
  • Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Glaucoma;
  • HIV / AIDS;
  • Huntington’s disease;
  • Inflammatory bowel disease;
  • Intractable seizures;
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • Neurodegenerative diseases;
  • Neuropathies;
  • Opioid use disorder for which conventional therapeutic interventions are contraindicated or ineffective, or for which adjunctive therapy is indicated in combination with primary therapeutic interventions;
  • Parkinson’s disease;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain;
  • Sickle cell anemia;
  • Terminal illness; and
  • Tourette syndrome.

As the DOH website reads, there are four steps to participate in Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program:

  1. Register for Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program on the DOH website;
  2. See an approved doctor to get certified;
  3. Pay for your medical marijuana ID card;
  4. Visit a PA dispensary with your medical marijuana ID card.

The DOH says, if you believe you have one of these medical conditions, the first step is to register on the DOH website. Have a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID with you to match the information exactly as it appears on the ID, as your first and last name must match identically.

Once your information is verified, you’ll need to create a username and password. When this step is completed, you will see a screen that displays your account information including your Patient ID number, this means you are now registered in the program.

Secondly, you must visit a doctor approved to participate in the program so they may certify that you have one of the 23 serious medical conditions making you eligible for medical marijuana. This certification is needed to get your actual medical marijuana ID card, the DOH says.

Also, according to the DOH website, you should register online and have your patient ID number before seeing an approved doctor.

The DOH says after the doctor certifies you, the next step is to pay for your patient ID card. To do so you’ll need to visit the PA DOH Medical Marijuana Program log-in page and log in with the username and password created when you registered. Click the ‘Make Payment” tab and follow the instructions until you receive a confirmation that you have successfully paid for your medical marijuana ID card.

As the DOH website states, the fee for the medical marijuana ID card is $50. However, those who participate in the following government programs may qualify for a free medical marijuana ID card:

  • Medicaid,
  • CHIP,
  • SNAP,
  • and WIC.

The medical marijuana ID card takes 7 days to print from the date you paid for your ID card and 14 days to receive it in the mail. Your card will be mailed to the address in your patient profile.

Lastly, once you’ve received your medical marijuana ID card, you can legally purchase medical marijuana at any dispensary within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the DOH says. Although some dispensaries may require an appointment for your first visit.

Although patients with valid medical marijuana cards are legally allowed to possess the plant, there are still laws and regulations to follow. Medical marijuana patients are able to purchase three months’ worth from their licensed dispensary, while previously dispensaries were limited to selling only a 30-day supply.

Pennsylvania still defines marijuana as a Schedule I drug and some important patient laws to be aware of are as follows:

  • Medical marijuana may only be consumed in homes or private residences.
  • In Pennsylvania, growing your own marijuana plant is still illegal. 
  • Patients/caregivers can transport medical marijuana in a closed, sealed container stored out of reach but only within state lines.

Even a Pennsylvania resident with a valid medical marijuana card is not allowed to operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. According to Pennsylvania law, a person is not allowed to operate a vehicle if they have any ‘THC,’ in their system.

THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, which makes the law a bit tricky, as THC can stay in a person’s body for days, weeks, or months after ingesting marijuana. Meaning a person can be charged and convicted of DUI even after the effects of marijuana have worn off.

According to the Martin Law Firm, the penalties for DUI of marijuana are:

First Offense

  • Misdemeanor
  • Imprisonment from 72 hours to 6 months
  • Fine of $1000 to $5000
  • Alcohol highway safety school
  • License suspension of at least 18 months
  • 150 hours of community service
  • Attend victim impact panel

Second offense

  • Misdemeanor
  • Imprisonment from 90 days to 6 months
  • Fine of at least $1,500
  • Alcohol highway safety school
  • License suspension of at least 18 months
  • 150 hours of community service
  • Attend victim impact panel

Third offense

  • 2nd-degree misdemeanor
  • Imprisonment for at least 1 year
  • Fine of not less than $2,500
  • License suspension of at least 18 months
  • 150 hours of community service
  • Attend a victim impact panel

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program seems to be a helpful tool for those who need it as a medical necessity. However, it is important to remember that under Pennsylvania Law, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug for those not on the program. And those who are, must use it responsibly.

For more information regarding registration, finding an authorized doctor, finding a dispensary, or the rules and regulations of the program, visit the PA DOH website.