State board rejects bids to add conditions to qualify for medical marijuana

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The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board voted Tuesday to reject five requests to add to the list of conditions that qualify people for medical marijuana, even while board members acknowledged that, in several cases, patients with the conditions could benefit from using medical cannabis.

The board rejected bids to allow medical marijuana to be used to treat traumatic brain injury, hepatitis, Hepatitis C, chronic insomnia that isn’t responding to other treatments and major depressive disorder that isn’t responding to other treatments.

Pennsylvania’s 367,925 active medical marijuana patients have all been diagnosed as having one or more of 23 serious medical conditions, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, anxiety disorder, cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and opioid use disorder and chronic pain.

Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said board members were concerned the applications for traumatic brain injury, hepatitis and Hepatitis C were overly broad and would have allowed people to qualify for medical marijuana cards in cases that would be inappropriate. The board was concerned that juveniles could qualify for medical marijuana if they suffered acute traumatic brain injuries. Johnson said there is evidence that medical marijuana could benefit patients suffering from chronic hepatitis and chronic Hepatitis C, but that board members felt it would be inappropriate to allow medical marijuana for people who’d had acute cases of hepatitis.

A move to amend the applications by the board was stymied by the board’s own policies.

Under the board’s existing policies, board members don’t have the option to amend an application submitted to them – the board must either refer the proposed new condition to one of its subcommittees to recommend the change or the board can notify the applicants to resubmit the request with the changes sought by the board, said Carol Mowery, assistant legal counsel for the Department of Health.

“It seems like a convoluted way to move forward,” said Dr. William Goldfarb, a member of the advisory board.

Molly Robertson, another advisory board member, called the situation “ridiculous” because it delays the board’s approval even though there appeared to be a consensus among board members that medical marijuana should be allowed for people with chronic hepatitis and chronic Hepatitis C.

“I don’t know why we would make them wait to add one word to the application,” she said. “The bottom line is patients are waiting.”

The board only meets on a quarterly basis, meaning it can’t vote on the change until it meets again in November.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said the department and the advisory board will research whether or how the board’s approved process can be changed to more quickly modify applications for qualifying conditions.

The board’s move to reject chronic insomnia and major depressive disorder were less controversial after Johnson noted that the board’s review concluded there was no evidence that medical marijuana would benefit patients with those conditions.

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