On caregivers : unsung heroes of our medical marijuana program

The Briggs family celebrating Ryan Briggs’ certification for medical marijuana

The Briggs family celebrating Ryan Briggs’ certification for medical marijuana

Patients and caregivers only beyond this point.”

If you frequent any of the medical marijuana dispensaries in Pennsylvania, you’ve likely encountered this kind of messaging.

For some patients, visiting the dispensary is a burden—they qualify for medical marijuana, but can’t physically get to the dispensary to pick it up. Challenges including mobility, hearing, vision, transportation, and crowds are just some of the barriers facing many of our patients. There is also a community of patients who are children, homebound, or nearing end-of-life, and can’t make their own medical decisions.

That’s where state-approved caregivers come in. Caregivers are issued cards, just like patients, that permit them to enter a dispensary, purchase medical marijuana, and deliver it directly to the patient.

There is such a need for caregivers that one Pennsylvania family created an organization to reach these underserved patient communities. Inspired by her son’s positive response to medical marijuana therapy for his Intractable Epilepsy, Diana Briggs and her daughter, Alexis, created Pennsylvania Compassionate Caregivers to match patients with caregivers in their area.

“PA Compassionate Caregivers was founded for one reason: to help those who can’t access this amazing plant on their own gain access to medical marijuana in Pennsylvania,” says Diana, who was one of the leading advocates for Act 16 when the Pennsylvania legislature passed it in 2016.

“Not everyone has a support system or family members willing to help get them cannabis. Many others are just learning how to deal with an end of life diagnosis for their loved one and don’t have time to navigate the caregiver registration process. That’s where we step in. We become that support system.”  

answers to some of the frequently asked questions about caregivers:

·      Patients can elect up to two caregivers. For example, in Ryan Briggs’ case, both his mother and sister are registered caregivers and can pick up medication on his behalf at any Pennsylvania dispensary.

·      A caregiver can be matched with up to five patients at one time. “There have been many times I’ve had five patients under me,” Diana reports. “From children in the hospital whose parents don’t want to leave their side, to homebound seniors who had no one else to help after the physician provided a bedside certification.”

·      You don’t need to know any specific patient to enroll as a caregiver. Diana encourages all cannabis advocates to consider joining the program as caregivers, even if you don’t personally know someone in need. She and the Department of Health regularly receive calls from patients who are looking to be matched with a caregiver in their area. 

Who can be a caregiver?

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Caregivers must:

-Be Pennsylvania residents

-Be age 21 or older with valid ID.

-Submit fingerprinting and background checks. Caregivers will not be approved if they have a conviction of criminal sale or possession of drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances within the last five years.

How do I become a caregiver?

To register as a caregiver, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health registration page. Under “caregivers” you will see four different options for caregiver registration.

·      Adult Patient Caregiver Registration: use this link to register as a caregiver for a patient 18 or older who is already in the system.

·      Caregiver registering for an existing patient: use this link to register as a caregiver for a patient who is already in the system but will NOT be visiting the dispensary, such as a minor or homebound patient.

·      Caregiver registering for a new patient: use this link to register as a caregiver for a patient who is not yet in the system and will NOT be visiting the dispensary, such as a minor or homebound patient.

·      DOH Approved Caregiver Registration: use this link to register as a caregiver in the state, not for any specific patient(s). By registering through this link, you give the state permission to share your contact information with patients in your area who need a caregiver.

Once registered, you will be directed to complete the mandated fingerprinting and background check. This process can take 4-6 weeks for approval, and when complete, your final step is to log into your profile and pay the $50 card fee. 

Help advocate to the Department of Health

We regularly hear from caregivers about the need for refined registration and renewal processes. We encourage all current and prospective patients and caregivers to contact the PA Department of Health Office of Medical Marijuana:

1.888.733.5595 OR RA-DHMEDMARIJUANA@PA.GOV

Diana’s final word: “For anyone who is thinking of joining us at PACC remember these words that describe our mission best. We are the helpers!”   

For more information about PA Compassionate Caregivers or how to get involved, visit their website, Facebook, or contact Diana directly at dianabpacc@gmail.com