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Medical Marijuana Program Entering Final Stages Of Rollout

Jennifer Peltz
Medical marijuana packing on display at Vireo Health drug dispensary in White Plains, N.Y. on Jan. 5, 2016. Pennsylvania has started issuing identification cards to residents with qualifying conditions.

Pennsylvanians have started receiving identification cards to get medication through the commonwealth's new medical marijuana program.

More than 10,000 people have registered, but only about 1,188 have been approved so far.

Medical marijuana ID cards started going out to patients in mid-December, with 435 released in the first wave.

The Department of Health says more are being issued as we speak.

Acting DOH Secretary Rachel Levine said people can actually start getting medication sometime during the next four months--though it's still unclear exactly when.

"There are many moving parts," she said. "That includes the growers and processors, the dispensaries, the physicians, the patients registering as well as caregivers, and making sure all that works in a very coordinated fashion."

Eight of 12 state-licensed marijuana grower-processors have been given the go-ahead to start operating, with the remaining four expected to start soon.

The 27 permitted dispensaries haven't been cleared yet. But Levine said that process will start early next year.

550 physicians have registered to administer medical marijuana prescriptions, and 250 of those have finished the required training.

Levine said some doctors were initially cautious about prescribing the new drug.

"That's understandable," she said. "But as physicians...come to understand the process and how careful we're being in delivering a medical product, I think they will start to look more at the program, and then hopefully, we would love to have them register, take the education, learn more about medical marijuana and then consider it as one more medication they might use for patients who are suffering."

Levine said the department's working to get more doctors on board--particularly those who work with patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, or other conditions where the drug's been shown to help.

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