From illicit to legal: the Northwest’s cannabis pioneer

by Len Lear
Posted 6/1/23

Dr. Rebecca Maury, 53, an internal medicine specialist, was the first medical doctor in the Northwest to approve patients for the use of cannabis from her Germantown Ave.  office.

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From illicit to legal: the Northwest’s cannabis pioneer


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when my wife and I lived in the Mayfair House, a high-rise apartment building at Lincoln Drive and Johnson Street in Germantown, there was a big park across the street, and like daffodils in April, a young man named Bob who seemed to have an endless supply of marijuana for sale would pop up in the spring. 

The usual cost was $15 for a half-ounce bag and $25 for a one-ounce bag, but regular customers might get a discount. Today, according to Mr. Google, the average price for an ounce of marijuana bought on the streets in most cities is about $250 to $300. And experts say that buying it on the street can be extremely dangerous these days because it may be laced with toxic agents like fentanyl.

On the other hand, in 1996 California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana (cannabis), and since that time, 39 more states have legalized it. Pennsylvania was the 24th to do so, and on Feb. 15, 2018, the first state-licensed sales took place in approved dispensaries, usually to long lines of customers. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Rebecca Maury, 53, an internal medicine specialist, became the first medical doctor in the Northwest to approve patients for the use of cannabis from her office at 7811 Germantown Ave. 

Dr. Maury closed that office shortly after the pandemic began in March 2020, but she still has many cannabis-using patients in her telemedicine-based practice. “I don't write prescriptions,” she said last week. “No one needs them. You just need a note from your doctor, which will get you a medical card that you can take to a marijuana dispensary. (The nearest ones to Northwest Philadelphia are three in Plymouth Meeting.)

“You need an eligible reason, of which there are 24 approved by the state,” Maury said. “I assess the patients. There are no pre-rolled cigarettes. You can buy flour in a can and vaporize it or capsules and tincture. I take care of rheumatoid arthritis patients, and it's really great for that. There are quick-release lozenges and ingestible oil concentrates that taste terrible. You eat it with peanut butter, which helps with absorption. There are no cookies or brownies yet.”

An obvious, unavoidable question: Aren't there patients who will claim to have back pain or some other fictional ailment when all they really want to do is get high? 

“Part of my job is to figure out who is real and who is not,” Maury said. “After 25 years of treating patients, however, I am a good b.s. detector. But medical marijuana is much different than what you might buy on the street. Every product is labeled that you get from a dispensary. Anxiety is the most common reason for it, and it is a safe and effective medicine for anxiety. We titrate the exact amount of THC (the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana). It can help anxiety without getting high. I recommend it for people who never used it and for old people who get confused. I use topical ointments for joint pain and inflammation. 

“People say they've tried so many things for pain or anxiety, but medical marijuana is much safer and easier on the body than, say, Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug, or alcohol,” she continued. “I have taken care of thousands of patients with diseases related to alcohol like liver diseases, so I know. People don't die from cannabis. It is an incredibly safe, non-addictive medicine. And there are many more growers now, which means more volume and more competition, so the price has come down.”

A jar of ointment, which costs about $50, lasts a couple of months and can be particularly helpful for insomnia. Tinctures cost between $35 and $45. “And they do not make you feel groggy, like Ambien and Benadryl,” Maury said. “You get a better quality of sleep. I stopped prescribing Ambien because it is not safe. One neighbor of mine took it and drove in the middle of the night into a lamppost.”

A native of Kensington, Md., where her late father founded a newspaper, Maury earned her undergraduate degree and medical degree from the University of New Mexico, after which she moved to Philadelphia in 2002 to take a residency at Jefferson University Hospital. She and her son, William, a senior at Germantown Friends School, moved to a Woodward house in Chestnut Hill in 2011. “We love this house and living in Chestnut Hill,” said Maury, who also does palliative, end-of-life care at Threshold Collective, a practice she co-founded in Kensington with Catherine Birdsall, a nurse. 

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