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Capital Region Entrepreneurs Launch National Directory of Medical Marijuana Doctors

Dr. MedMar lists registered physicians

Published 11:40 pm, Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Updated: is now known as

It’s tough to find a doctor in New York who will recommend medical marijuana.

At the one-year anniversary of the drug being legally available in the state, more than 800 physicians are registered to certify patients to purchase medical cannabis in 19 dispensaries, including three in Albany County

But over the past year, patients and advocates have consistently complained that finding a registered doctor can be a huge challenge, on top of having a debilitating condition that qualifies them to try the medicine in the first place. A key problem is there’s no way for patients to look up a list of registered doctors. Only other doctors can do that.

For patients, as well as the five companies who make the drugs and have yet to see profits, that’s been a cause of frustration.

Entrepreneurs John Norris and John Karling, however, saw the problem as an opportunity. They saw something they could fix — and perhaps capitalize on.

The duo, who started the Saratoga Springs-based digital advertising firm 5×5 Lab in March, last month launched Dr. MedPot, a website that allows patients to search for doctors who have registered with the medical marijuana program and consented to have their names listed on the state’s Health Commerce System.

Norris and Karling won’t say where they got the database of participating doctors to publish. But until now, only state Health Department staff and New York medical practitioners have been able to access it.

Medical cannabis advocates eschew the use of the slang term “pot” as suggestive of illegal, recreational drug use. But the entrepreneurs chose Dr. MedPot for the website’s name after discovering that “pot” and “doctor” were the most-used words in online searches for health providers registered with medical marijuana programs.

“Not many people know how to spell cannabis,” Karling quipped.

Patients, advocates and marijuana companies said the site is a step forward in getting much-needed information to the public, though they also expressed some concerns about it, including the accuracy of information and whether doctors were aware of the exposure.

“The state’s medical marijuana program cannot possibly compassionately serve qualifying New Yorkers if they can’t find the name of physicians and nurses registered with the program,” said Ari Hoffnung, chief executive of Vireo Health of New York, which produces marijuana medicines in Fulton County, and president of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association. “We applaud any and all efforts to make the list of health care practitioners more accessible to New Yorkers.

“With that said, our strong preference would be that a list be made available by the state — an official list — because obviously a list provided by the state would have more credibility to it,” Hoffnung said.

A state Health Department spokesman said the agency continues to consider publishing a list of consenting practitioners registered with the program on its website.

Norris and Karling, who formerly worked in the Times Union’s advertising department, see Dr. MedPot as a platform from which they can expand to other states, like Texas, developing medical marijuana programs.

There are other national websites that provide information on where to find doctors participating in state medical marijuana programs. Norris and Karling said Dr. MedPot’s information is more complete.

A search for doctors near Latham on the website Weedmaps produced three in Albany and Rensselaer counties. The same search on Dr. MedPot produced six doctors in those counties, plus ones in Saugerties, Gloversville and Queensbury.

“I liked that you did have immediate access to actual names of physicians,” said Kate Hintz, a patient advocate with Compassionate Care NY who checked out Dr. MedPot on Tuesday. “It certainly seems to go a little bit further than anything we have seen as of yet.”

Nancy Rivera, a 63-year-old Troy resident who has previously expressed frustration over her inability to find a doctor to certify her for medical marijuana, found the site a bit confusing, however. She got tripped up over a “Member Login” area intended for doctors who may later join Dr. MedPot. The site also refers to prescribers as being “top rated,” but provides no reviews or information about their credentials.

Dr. MedPot’s creators said they hope doctors and medical marijuana manufacturers will claim their listings on the website, expanding and updating them. (A few already have.) For monthly fees, 5×5 Lab is also offering them such services as a high ranking in searches and links to their own office websites.

While there is no restriction on advertising by medical practitioners, medical marijuana companies must have marketing materials approved by the state Department of Health.

“Theoretically, this website and others could be used to advertise the products and services of the registered (companies),” Hoffnung said. “It’s obviously up to each registered organization to work with the DOH for getting approved.”