(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — The Department of Health has expanded financial assistance available in the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program.

With the approval of Act 44 of 2021 (signed by the governor, expanding definitions and availability of medical marijuana) the department is taking a three-phase approach to provide assistance “as quickly as possible,” a news release said.

Phases 1 and 2 are already complete. Phase 1 has eliminated an annual identification card fee for eligible participants, and phase 2 has eliminated all background check fees for eligible caregivers.

Phase 3 “will distribute a to-be-determined benefit amount per funding period per eligible patient,” the news release said. Phase 3 is not yet complete, but it is being developed.

“The department is pleased to be able to expand assistance to medical marijuana patients and caregivers who may be experiencing financial hardships,” Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said in a news release. “Patients deserve to have access to their medicine to treat medical conditions and cost should not be a barrier.” 

Along with the expanded financial assistance, the department also announced a ninth clinical registrant of the Medical Marijuana Research Program.

Clinical registrants must hold both a grower/processor and a dispensary permit, as well as a research contract with one of nine approved academic clinical research centers, the news release noted.

The new registrant is Story of PA CR, LLC., which holds a contract with Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. According to the news release, the registrant will hold a grower/processor permit in the Southwest Region, and plans to have two dispensaries, one in the Northeast Region and the other in the Southeast.

For news delivered right to yousubscribe to JET 24/FOX 66/YourErie.com’s breaking, daily news & severe weather email lists

More than 729,000 patients and caregivers are registered to obtain medical marijuana for one of 23 serious medical conditions, and more than 1,700 physicians are approved practitioners, according to the news release.