Medical marijuana sought by more than 50,000 people living in counties with no dispensaries

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More than 50,000 people registered to get medical marijuana live in one of 29 rural counties that don’t have any medical marijuana dispensaries, according to data provided to CNHI by the Department of Health.

The department provided the information after being ordered to do so by the state Office of Open Records. The Department of Health initially refused to provide the data, saying it wouldn’t release the information in order to avoid violating patient privacy protections built into the state’s Medical Marijuana Law.

The Office of Open Records rejected the department’s arguments in July saying that aggregated data about the medical marijuana program wouldn’t violate any individual patient’s privacy.

“Finding the requested aggregated data to be confidential would lead to an absurd result. Under such a broad reading of confidentiality, information such as the total number of Pennsylvanians using the medical marijuana program would be confidential and disclosure of that figure could result in criminal sanctions. The OOR cannot conclude that this was the General Assembly’s intent,” Kyle Applegate, chief counsel for the Office of Open Records, wrote in the order directing the Department of Health to release the data.

This is the first time the agency has released the information publicly, said Meredith Buettner, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, a trade group representing growers and dispensary operators.

The information has been sought by the cannabis industry group, she said, because the data could help inform their decisions about where to locate dispensaries even as the Department of Health has acknowledged there are large areas of the state under-served by the program.

Buettner said without access to the information about patient residency by county, dispensary operators have been forced to make decisions about where to locate dispensaries based on market surveys and population data.

“Having patient counts by counties could help us make business decisions about where to locate the remaining dispensaries that haven’t opened, to be able to fill patients’ needs. You know, it would make that process a lot easier. No one has ever been given that information,” Buettner said. “If you looked at other medical marijuana regulatory bodies across the country, you would be able to find this information with a Google search.”

The Department of Health website lists 127 dispensaries operating in the state. State law now allows up to 198 dispensaries.

At a Medical Marijuana Advisory Board meeting on Tuesday, John Collins, director of the Medical Marijuana Program, said there are 367,925 active patients buying medical marijuana.

Long drives

At the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board meeting in May, Collins said that in underserved areas, particularly in north-central Pennsylvania, patients must drive at least half an hour in some cases and may be driving as much as two hours to get to the nearest dispensary.

Despite that warning, the department initially refused to disclose the number of residents by county until ordered to do so by the Office of Open Records.

The data provided to CNHI showed that there were 595,336 patients registered with the program, as of Aug. 13. The data showed that 53,293 people registered to get medical marijuana live in counties where there are no dispensaries.

In seven of the counties with no dispensaries – Cameron, Forest, Fulton, Juniata, Potter, Sullivan and Tioga – there are fewer than 1,000 people registered to use medical marijuana.

Buettner said the number of patients would include all those who’ve sought medical marijuana cards since medical marijuana sales started in 2018. Those eligible to obtain medical marijuana must get a doctor to indicate that the patient suffers from one of 23 serious medical conditions, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and cancer. In some cases, people who registered to get medical marijuana may have since died. In other cases, the patient could have used medical marijuana until their condition improved and stopped, she said.

About 182,000 people who’ve requested medical marijuana cards were residents of Philadelphia and the suburban counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery. That area has 40 dispensaries.

Montgomery County, with 44,000 medical marijuana patients, has 14 dispensaries. Philadelphia, with almost 58,000 medical marijuana patients, has 13 dispensaries.

In western Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, with 63,910 medical marijuana patients, has 10 dispensaries.

By region

The Department of Health divided the state into six regions for the purposes of overseeing the medical marijuana program

  • In the Northwestern region, with 42,136 medical marijuana patients, six counties – Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest, Venango and Warren – don’t have any dispensaries. Of those six counties, only Venango, with 2,262 medical marijuana patients, had more than 2,000 medical marijuana patients. There are nine dispensaries in the other seven counties in the region.
  • In the North-Central Region, with 27,206 medical marijuana patients, seven counties have no dispensaries. None of those counties have more than 2,000 patients. There are six dispensaries spread across the other five counties in that region.
  • In the Northeastern Region, with 79,927 medical marijuana patients, five counties – Carbon, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming – have no dispensaries. Of those, Carbon has 3,407 medical marijuana patients, Pike has 3,108 and Wayne has 2,521. There are 19 dispensaries in the other five counties in the region.
  • In the Southwestern Region, with 126,677 medical marijuana patients, only four counties – Armstrong, Greene, Indiana and Somerset – don’t have dispensaries. There are 25 dispensaries in the other seven counties.
  • In the South-Central Region, with 89,557 medical marijuana patients, six counties – Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin and Perry – have no dispensaries. Three of those counties have more than 2,000 medical marijuana patients: Bedford with 3,029, Huntingdon with 2,174 and Perry with 2,108. There are 21 dispensaries in the other seven counties in the region.
  • In the Southeastern Region, where there are 229,837 medical marijuana patients, only one county, Schuylkill County, has no dispensaries. There are 6,226 medical marijuana patients in Schuylkill County, far more than any other county without a dispensary, according to the Department of Health data. There are 47 dispensaries in the other seven counties in the region. 
Medical marijuana patients by county (PA)
County Number of medical marijuana patients Population Patients per 100,000 residents Number of dispensaries
Adams 6,854 103,852 6,600 1
Allegheny 63,910 1,250,578 5,110 10
Armstrong 2,723 65,558 4,154 0
Beaver 8,892 168,215 5,286 1
Bedford 3,029 47,577 6,367 0
Berks 18,873 428,849 4,401 3
Blair 7,129 122,822 5,804 3
Bradford 1,404 59,967 2,341 0
Bucks 32,759 646,538 5,067 4
Butler 8,272 193,763 4,269 6
Cambria 5,421 133,472 4,062 2
Cameron 336 4,547 7,389 0
Carbon 3,407 64,749 5,262 0
Centre 5,906 158,172 3,734 1
Chester 25,780 534,413 4,824 5
Clarion 1,470 37,241 3,947 0
Clearfield 5,976 80,562 7,418 1
Clinton 1,750 37,450 4,673 0
Columbia 3,256 64,727 5,030 1
Crawford 3,062 83,938 3,648 1
Cumberland 12,492 259,469 4,814 4
Dauphin 16,009 286,401 5,590 5
Delaware 24,559 576,830 4,258 4
Elk 1,838 30,990 5,931 0
Erie 13,619 270,876 5,028 2
Fayette 5,569 128,804 4,324 1
Forest 297 6,973 4,259 0
Franklin 6,808 155,932 4,366 2
Fulton 763 14,556 5,242 0
Greene 1,330 35,954 3,699 0
Huntingdon 2,174 44,092 4,931 0
Indiana 2,586 83,246 3,106 0
Jefferson 2,553 44,492 5,738 1
Juniata 820 23,509 3,488 0
Lackawanna 12,531 215,896 5,804 5
Lancaster 21,847 552,984 3,951 4
Lawrence 3,853 86,070 4,477 2
Lebanon 6,851 143,257 4,782 1
Lehigh 17,455 374,557 4,660 4
Luzerne 15,844 325,594 4,866 5
Lycoming 4,828 114,188 4,228 2
McKean 1,559 40,432 3,856 1
Mercer 3,588 110,652 3,243 1
Mifflin 1,826 46,143 3,957 0
Monroe 6,702 168,327 3,982 1
Montgomery 44,058 856,553 5,144 14
Montour 1,085 18,136 5,983 0
Northampton 14,905 312,951 4,763 4
Northumberland 4,622 91,647 5,043 1
Perry 2,108 45,842 4,598 0
Philadelphia 55,735 1,603,797 3,475 13
Pike 3,018 58,535 5,156 0
Potter 505 16,396 3,080 0
Schuylkiil 6,226 143,049 4,352 0
Snyder 1,433 39,736 3,606 1
Somerset 2,131 74,129 2,875 0
Sullivan 174 5,840 2,979 0
Susquehanna 1,831 38,434 4,764 0
Tioga 859 41,045 2,093 0
Union 1,384 42,681 3,243 0
Venango 2,262 50,454 4,483 0
Warren 1,723 38,587 4,465 0
Washington 10,034 209,349 4,793 1
Wayne 2,521 51,155 4,928 0
Westmoreland 15,805 354,663 4,456 4
Wyoming 1,713 26,069 6,571 0
York 22,694 456,438 4,972 5
PA 595,336 13,002,700 4,579 0

 

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