Excitement surrounding the pending start of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program could quickly fizzle out if patients can’t find doctors willing to recommend cannabis.

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 (Photo: The York Dispatch)

That’s why the state Department of Health is placing an emphasis on physician participation in crafting its regulations.

The department organized a physician work group to seek input and gauge how strong participation will be as it finalizes those regulations, according to spokeswoman April Hutcheson.

The department finalized its temporary regulations Friday for physician and practitioner participation as the state prepares to begin issuing dispensary and grower/processor permits by the end of the month.

The program is expected to be fully implemented by early 2018.

Per the regulations, medical professionals who want the option to recommend patients medical marijuana will need to complete a four-hour training course and register with the department.

Hutcheson said the department is currently accepting applications for organizations hoping to provide that training, and the cost to physicians will be dependent on those providers.

The department will also maintain a publicly available registry on its website that lists the practitioners approved to participate in the program.

Chris Goldstein, a leading Philadelphia-based advocate for cannabis consumers and patients, said the registry and training requirement could limit physician participation, which will ultimately impact patient participation.

The registry exists for medical marijuana programs in New York and New Jersey, both states with low participation rates, Goldstein said.

Other states, including Michigan, that don’t require doctors to register before recommending medical marijuana have many more patients visiting dispensaries, he added.

Though these regulations are just temporary, Goldstein said the registry and training requirement will stay because they are written into the state law.

The success of the program could rely on large medical companies buying in and requiring their physicians

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