Amy Kennalley, MBS First Year Medical Student Department of Medical Education Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine

Blunt Truth: Inequities in Medical Marijuana Dispensary Accessibility in Pennsylvania Interview with:

Amy Kennalley, MBS First Year Medical Student Department of Medical Education Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine

Amy Kennalley

Amy Kennalley, MBS
First Year Medical Student
Department of Medical Education
Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine What is the background for this study

Response: The legalization of medical marijuana (MMJ) and the number of qualifying conditions are expanding across the USA, emphasizing the need to understand the implications of MMJ dispensary distribution for equitable access. Pennsylvania (PA) legalized MMJ in 2016, with the first dispensary opening its doors in 2018. The state currently recognizes 24 medical conditions for MMJ use, including six for which there is insufficient or no evidence for their efficacy as a treatment. Prior research suggests that there is a link between proximity to dispensaries and overall MMJ use. However, a gap exists in our understanding of how dispensary locations might be associated with the specific qualifying conditions for which individuals receive their certification.

In response to this knowledge gap, our study delved into the medical marijuana dispensary access in PA and explored associations with both MMJ certifications and the community demographics. Utilizing data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, we investigated how proximity to MMJ dispensaries related to the proportion of individuals certified for MMJ use within a specific area or Zip Code Tabulation Area. Additionally, we analyzed the proportion of certifications for conditions with varying levels of evidence supporting the efficacy of MMJ.

This pioneering study represents the first of its kind in PA, shedding light on the association between MMJ dispensary locations and certifications. Likewise, it is the first in the US to investigate the link between dispensary locations and specific qualifying conditions. By examining these dynamics, we aim to contribute vital insights to inform policy and practice, ensuring equitable access to MMJ treatment for individuals with diverse medical needs. What are the main findings?

Response:  Our investigation revealed a large expansion in geographic access to medical marijuana dispensaries across PA from 2018 to 2021, presenting an important milestone in MMJ accessibility. Interestingly, access to these dispensaries varied based on the racial and ethnic composition of communities. The data revealed a noteworthy reduction in the distance to the nearest MMJ dispensary over time, accompanied by a substantial increase in the proportion of areas situated within close proximity to a dispensary. Moreover, the study unveiled a remarkable six-fold increase in the proportion of adults certified for medical marijuana between 2018 and 2021, suggestive of the growing acceptance of MMJ by Pennsylvanians.

Concurrently, greater dispensary access was linked to a decrease in the proportion of certifications for conditions lacking substantial evidence supporting MMJ efficacy. Additionally, areas with higher proportions of non-White and Hispanic residents exhibited a 20-fold greater likelihood of having dispensaries within a five-mile radius, regardless of income levels. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The findings of our study emphasize the potential role of medical marijuana dispensary accessibility in shaping medical marijuana certification rates and influencing the choice of medical conditions for which individuals seek certification. The observed demographic disparities in dispensary access emphasize the existence of potential inequities in MMJ availability across diverse communities. Observed discrepancies in access to MMJ necessitate further research to establish equitable healthcare delivery for all demographics. What recommendations do you have for future research as a results of this study?

Response: Based on the insights gleaned from this study, future research should concentrate on advancing our understanding of the implications surrounding medical marijuana dispensary accessibility. This can be achieved through longitudinal investigations aimed at tracking changes in medical marijuana dispensary accessibility over time, not only within PA but across other states. Additionally, assessing trends in MMJ certifications based on the level of evidence for effectiveness will be instrumental in development of more robust MMJ policies. Furthermore, digging into the nuanced disparities in MMJ dispensary accessibility among diverse demographic groups encompassing race, ethnicity, income, and geographic location promises to unravel critical insights into equitable MMJ distribution and promote equitable access to dispensaries. In conclusion, future research should prioritize understanding and addressing any disparities to ensure fair access to MMJ options for all eligible individuals. This will help improve access to medical marijuana treatment for all who will benefit from it.

Citation: Hirsch, Annemarie & Wright, Eric & Nordberg, Cara & DeWalle, Joseph & Stains, Elena & Kennalley, Amy & Zhang, Joy & Tusing, Lorraine & Piper, Brian. (2024). Dispensaries and Medical Marijuana Certifications and Indications: Unveiling the Geographic Connections in Pennsylvania, USA. Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids. 7. 10.1159/000537841.

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Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Marie Benz MD FAAD