Pubdate: Tue, 21 Nov 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


Patient response to Pa. marijuana program 'extremely positive'

What if Pennsylvania had a medical marijuana program but few people
knew about it?

With hundreds of millions of dollars invested in cannabis growing
facilities and dispensaries -- and the health of thousands of
prospective patients on the line -- alerting state residents to the
program should be a priority. But there's effectively a gag order on
nearly all players involved.

The state Department of Health, responsible for the program's
roll-out, has no budget to pay for advertising. Marijuana growers,
processors and dispensaries are prohibited by law from actively
promoting their wares. And doctors who write recommendations for
medical cannabis are forbidden from publicizing that they're

So reaching prospective patients requires some artful threading of the
needle. The program is set to launch early next year. According to the
state, about 6,600 people have applied since Nov. 1 to participate in
the program, and 107 doctors have been approved to recommend marijuana
products. Those numbers aren't nearly enough to sustain an industry.

To encourage participation, some of the stakeholders are taking
matters into their own hands. One of Pennsylvania's 12 licensed
growers is funding its own education campaign. And several doctors
have posted explanatory videos about what is required of patients.

"They can educate, but the regulations say they cannot advertise,"
said April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the state Health Department.

Cresco Yeltrah won a permit to cultivate cannabis north of Pittsburgh
and is set to open three dispensaries in western Pennsylvania. The
Chicago-based company, the first to open a growhouse in the state, is
on track to supply dispensaries across the commonwealth with marijuana
oils, pills, creams and tinctures by early February, according to a

On Friday, Cresco launched a carefully worded social-media campaign to
promote the program. In an 85-second spot posted to YouTube, an
animated character explains the five steps patients need to take to
get a medical marijuana card. The video, approved by the Pennsylvania
Department of Health, contains no overt promotion of the Cresco brand.

Charlie Bachtell, CEO of parent company Cresco Labs, calls it a
"home-grown effort" to supplement the information the state has posted
on its own website.

"There's a groundswell of interest and effort by people who are
involved, and that interest has been pent up," said Bachtell, whose
company also is using discreet messaging on billboards on major
commuter routes. "We're all vested to make sure this program is a
success that we're willing to do things that traditional industries
don't usually do."

Cresco also opened an online help desk to guide patients through the

Dana Mincer is one of 107 physicians approved by the Pa. Department of
Health to recommend medical marijuana. She launched a series of videos
on YouTube that explain what patients need to know about the program.

Dana Mincer, a resident in her last year at Lower Bucks Hospital in
Bristol Township, is one of 107 doctors the state has approved to
write medical marijuana recommendations. Mincer self-produced three
videos about the Pennsylvania program "because I'm really passionate
about this as an alternative therapy."

"There are so many misconceptions about it, and the entire population
needs to be educated," she said. "I'm doing this because it needs to
be done, to get people healthy, and for many of those people to get
them off narcotics." One of Mincer's videos takes patients through the
17 medical conditions that qualify.

Mincer said she has no interest in dispensing the drug or profiting
from the nascent industry. "My only interest is getting patients
better," she said.

The health department's Hutcheson emphasized that all the information
a patient might need is on the state's website.

"We're making sure it's all accurate and presented so it's easy to
understand," Hutcheson said. "After visiting the site, the next step
is to have a conversation with your doctor to see if medical marijuana
is something that will work for you."
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