From seed to sale: The future of medical marijuana

When Madelyn Hearn from Johnstown is in a bad place, she sings and writes her own lyrics. (WJAC)

JOHNSTOWN - WJAC is taking a look at medical marijuana from seed to sale.

In a few months, the life-changing drug will be in the hands of thousands in Pennsylvania.

But there are some key issues before it even hits the shelves.

When Madelyn Hearn from Johnstown is in a bad place, she sings and writes her own lyrics.

"Because at this point I'm surviving, not living," she said.

Hearn has epilepsy and has seizures every day.

What began when she was 10 years old has been a constant battle.

"Honestly, I don't think an interview could describe what it feels like to be in my shoes,” she said. “A lot of time I feel trapped,and it's very depressing."

For Hearn and her mother, Lisa Budash, it’s been a tough road.

"It's very rough for me,” Budash said. “I just want her to have a normal life, and I know that's not an option right now.

"It's just been nonstop for us."

Budash is willing to do whatever it takes to help her daughter.

"Every day, we've tried seven or eight medications,” Budash said. “None of them work."

Budash is now registering Hearn for the medical marijuana program.

"There has been a lot of kids who've responded very well to that. (Kids) that they haven't responded to other medications," she said.

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf signed the act into a law.

"It's a team effort, absolutely a team effort," said Dr. Rachel Levine, acting secretary of health and physician general for the state.

She's implementing Act 16, which prime sponsor Sen. Mike Folmer pushed for in 2016.

"This will be an extremely positive program for one of those patients with the 17 medical conditions," Levin said.

Patients with conditions like autism, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder can participate in the program.

In a few short months, medical marijuana will be available.

Thousands have been signing up to get the life-changing drug, but it comes with a price.

"Financially, it's a really big issue," Budash said.

Medical marijuana is a cash-only business and is not covered by insurance.

"The cost is a factor, and we will be monitoring that and we will try to keep the price put as low as we can," Levine said.

Families seeking the relief of medical marijuana for a sick child or loved one are expected to cough up hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.

So what stops someone from buying it illegally off the streets for much less?

"Testing programs in the state of P-A, we will actually test the flower through the lab and test final product, so there is a double check," said Dr. Trenton Hartley, the chief operating officer of the first approved processor-grower facility in the state.

"We feel fortunate to be the first one up and running."

Yeltrah is working with Cresco labs and Denver leaf consulting.

The grow facility Is in Brookville, Jefferson County.

"Because we are not allowed flower in the state, everything has to be extracted," Hartley said.

Right now, there are 52 dispensaries across the state but only four in the Johnstown region.

Forcing families to travel far and wide to get the drug.

It's not just picking up a prescription at your local pharmacy. It's also not prescribed by your local family doctor.

So far, statewide there are only about 100 doctors who've been approved to recommend the alternative treatment option.

In the Johnstown region, WJAC has only tallied up seven doctors.

With more than 4,000 patients and caregivers already registered, how will doctors keep up with the demand?

State health leaders said they will have enough doctors.

Right now, there are 350 more doctors who are going through the registration process, and that should be completed very soon.

So those still struggling are staying cautiously optimistic.

"I’m at the end of the road that I’m willing to do whatever it takes so that I can live," Hearn said.

In order for doctors to get approval for medical marijuana, they must take a four-hour state course to educate them and help them treat patients.

In February when the drug is available, patients have to show their patient certification card and state ID to get medical marijuana.

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