Certain low-income senior citizens in Pennsylvania will receive financial assistance for their medical cannabis treatment thanks to a newly launched pilot program in the state. 

According to Capitol Wire, the state’s Department of Health launched the program “to offer $50 a month in financial assistance to help almost 1,400 senior citizens afford the cost of medical marijuana.”

“The payments are the first step toward establishing a third phase for the financial assistance program authorized to help low-income medical marijuana patients afford the drug. Because insurance companies don’t include medical marijuana in their prescription drug coverage, medical marijuana patients are left to pony up the full cost of medical marijuana when they visit the state’s dispensaries,” Capitol Wire reported.

Even so, that’s a small portion of the pool of patients who are potentially eligible for the discount, with Capitol Wire reporting that the state “doesn’t have sufficient funding to provide meaningful assistance to all of the patients identified as being low-income.”

The launch of the financial assistance marks the third phase of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program (MMAP), which was initiated earlier this year. 

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, “Phase 1 [eliminated] annual card fees for eligible participants registered in an existing Commonwealth financial hardship program; Phase 2 [eliminated] all background check fees for eligible caregivers; [and] Phase 3 will distribute a to-be-determined benefit amount per funding period per eligible patient.”

The Department of Health said that “Medical Marijuana Program Fund was created as a special fund in the State Treasury. The Office of Medical Marijuana was tasked with assisting patients by using an allotted percentage of this fund to establish…A program to assist with the cost of providing medical marijuana to patients who demonstrate financial hardship or need…A program to assist patients and caregivers with the cost associated with the waiver or reduction of fees for identification card…[and a] program to provide for the cost of background checks for caregivers.”

The cost of medical cannabis has been a concern for officials in Pennsylvania

Earlier this year, John Collins, the former director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana, sounded the alarm over rising costs

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in March that the “average wholesale price for a gram of medical cannabis leaf in Pennsylvania has fallen 36% since the beginning of 2020,” but Collins said that the “the average retail price that patients pay is down only 14% over the same period.”

“I’m clearly calling out today, secretary, a red flag that needs to be investigated,” Collins told Pennsylvania Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter, as quoted by the Inquirer

These aren’t the only changes the state’s Department of Health has made to the medical cannabis program either. 

In February, the agency instructed growers and retailers to stop selling hundreds of products that it said were not in line with regulatory standards.

“The Department of Health is committed to ensuring that the Medical Marijuana Program is operating appropriately and effectively,” the agency said in an email. “As you know the Department recently conducted a statewide review of all vaporized medical marijuana products containing added ingredients. After finishing this review, the Department has determined that certain vaporized medical marijuana products containing some added ingredients have not been approved for inhalation by the United States Food and Drug Administration.”

Capitol Wire reports that in March the state “began waiving the cost of the medical marijuana cards and the costs of background checks for caregivers of medical marijuana.”

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