Pennsylvania health officials are questioning doctors’ oversight of medical marijuana
Members of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board have publicly questioned the Wolf administration’s oversight of doctors and third-party certifying companies, concerns they echo the annual Spotlight PA investigation in the state program.
During the advisory board’s last meeting in November, health department officials faced scrutiny over the strictness of the telemedicine designation for medical marijuana card approval and medical marijuana business advertising.
Daniel Kambic, a physician and board member, called the current situation “a little sloppy,” though it was unclear whether he was referring to the certifications themselves, the department’s oversight, or both. “I think we need to tighten up a little bit,” Kambic said.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of patients must obtain a doctor’s approval to legally use cannabis in the state. Some patients contact these doctors through largely unregulated third-party companies. A Spotlight PA report found that some of these businesses do false or misleading medical claimsbenefit from unequal advertising rulesand allegedly tie the doctor’s payment to the patient’s permission.
Health Department officials have repeatedly insisted that the agency does not monitor third-party companies that help patients book appointments with doctors. But they also provided few details about how the department ensures that the state’s more than 1,800 approved doctors review a patient’s available medical records and provide appropriate advice.
Denise Johnson, the state’s chief medical officer and acting health secretary, told council members the department would provide more details before the next meeting. But she emphasized the importance of patient complaints.
“We can’t control every situation, so we need these specific reports,” she said.
this It is rare for a department to formally discipline a physician for possible violations of state medical marijuana regulations. The Department of Health recently adopted a recommendation to briefly suspend a practitioner’s ability to issue certifications after a patient complained that the doctor did not review her medical records during a telemedicine appointment.
When Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature first legalized medical marijuana in 2016, they specifically required doctors to meet with patients in person to issue medical marijuana permits. But the Health Department waived in-person appointment requirements at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and Wolfe and the Legislature changed state law in 2021 to permanently allow telemedicine appointments.
At one point during the advisory board meeting, member Diane Briggs noted that she and her son recently received certifications through telemedicine appointments and had to provide records of their diagnoses for qualifying conditions.
But another board member, I. William Goldfarb, suggested that Briggs’ experience might be unusual.
“That’s great,” Dr. Goldfarb replied. “I certainly welcome it. But … I’m not sure that the vast majority of people who want to get certified in telemedicine are that thorough.”
Laura Mentsch, director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana, acknowledged that there has been “controversy” about the quality of those consultations.
Col. Robert Evanchik, a member of the advisory board and commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, told Spotlight PA that he would like to examine the department’s authority to oversee third-party companies. In Pennsylvania, doctors are prohibited from advertising their ability to provide certifications, a rule that does not apply to companies that issue medical marijuana cards.
“I know we have oversight of physicians as far as advertising,” Ewanczyk said after the meeting. “But now we have companies that are kind of coming out, and I don’t want to say it’s advertising for doctors, but that’s really what they’re doing.”
90.5 WESA is partnered with Spotlight PA, a reader-funded collaborative newsroom dedicated to producing responsible journalism for all of Pennsylvania. Read more at spotlightpa.org.