Pittsburgh to Host Medical Marijuana Conference

Monday marks one year since Gov. Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program into law and a state-wide fully operational medical marijuana program may be yet another year away.

But the sponsors for next weekend’s World Medical Marijuana Conference and Expo say the time to prepare is now.

“This conference is for anybody interested in medical cannabis. They could be an investor, someone interested in a new career, a provider or a patient,” said Melonie Kotchey, chief operating officer and co-founder of Compassionate Certification Centers along with Armstrong County physician Bryan Doner.

Ms. Kotchey and Dr. Doner are expecting about 1,500 attendees from across the U.S. for the Friday-Saturday event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

The conference will feature former NFL players Ricky Williams and Marvin Washington, plus talks by medical, business and legal experts. Workshops on the extensive schedule range from classes on cooking with cannabis to a look at how technology will shape medical marijuana’s future.

In the 12 months since medical marijuana became law in Pennsylvania, the state has moved deliberately toward the program’s planned 2018 launch, establishing temporary regulations for grower/processors and dispensaries late last year and wrapping up the permit applications four weeks ago.

Last week, the state Department of Health released draft regulations for physicians interested in participating in the program — regulations that illustrate the complexities of state-sanctioned access to a drug that is prohibited under federal law.

To participate, doctors must register with the state and take a four-hour training course but they cannot receive medical marijuana-related payments nor have any financial interest in a medical marijuana organization. The draft regulations also prohibit doctors from advertising they can certify that a patient’s medical condition qualifies them to get medical marijuana.

The advertising ban, said Ms. Kotchey, “makes it very difficult for a patient to find a doctor.”

“I understand what they’re going for because they don’t want abuse to happen,” said Dr. Doner, who is medical director of the wound and hyperbaric center at ACMH Hospital in Kittanning and is board certified in emergency medicine.

“But when patients can’t find the doctors who are willing to certify them then the program cannot be as successful as it could be.”

Divisions remain within the medical profession about the efficacy of medical marijuana and physicians’ role in providing access to it, primarily because of the lack of scientific evidence of its benefits and risks. Yet because the federal government considers it an illegal substance, no federally funded research is likely.

Among his own colleagues, Dr. Doner said, “I have some who are super intrigued, others who shake their heads and say they don’t buy it, and a bunch who are in the middle.”

His own research leaves him comfortable with medical marijuana’s safety when provided in a controlled, standardized manner. He also acknowledges that “I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable” with the idea of certifying a patient for medical marijuana but not being involved in the patient’s actual treatment and follow-up care.

Still, he noted, patients with one of the 17 state-designated qualifying medical conditions often have no better option.

For those conditions, he said, “Our treatments right now are marginal at best.”

Compassionate Certification Centers is a medical marijuana marketing and consulting company based in Delaware but whose principals are in southwest Pennsylvania. It currently works with one medical practice in Miami with plans to add three more outside Pennsylvania in coming months.

Admission prices for the World Medical Marijuana Conference range from $50 for an adult exhibit hall only ticket each day up to $698 for Saturday’s exhibit hall, workshops and CME credits. Children’s tickets are $10. The conference schedule and a full list of ticket prices can be found at www.cccregister.com

Author: Steve Twedt from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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