Supporters promise 'comprehensive, strictly regulated' medical marijuana bill in Pennsylvania
January 29, 2015 12:00 AM
Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
Last year’s medical marijuana bill, SB 1182, passed the Senate, 43-7, in September but did not move to the House.
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Advocates for legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania are confident that a change in administration and in legislative attitudes will lead to a bill that is more progressive.
By Michael A. Fuoco and Mahita Gajanan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Advocates for legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania are confident that a change in administration and in legislative attitudes will lead to a bill that is more complete and progressive than a watered-down measure that died last year.
“It’s definitely going to be more comprehensive under a strictly regulated medical environment,” state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, said of Senate Bill 3, which calls for medical marijuana legalization. Like last year’s effort, he and Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, are co-sponsors.
Last year’s bill, SB 1182, passed the Senate, 43-7, in September but did not move to the House, where the Republican leadership was skeptical of passage. Additionally, then-Gov. Tom Corbett had opposed the legislation.
But the new House Republican leader, Dave Reed of Indiana, supports medical marijuana. And Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf met with families advocating the legislation and said he would sign such a bill.
Thus far, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use and some for recreational use. California was first in 1996. New York, Maryland and Minnesota were the most recent, passing their bills last year. State laws differ in several ways, including how much marijuana someone can buy. Limits range from one ounce in several states to 24 ounces in Oregon and Washington, where it’s also legalized for recreational use.
Last-minute amendments to the 2014 effort in Pennsylvania reduced the list of conditions qualifying for legal use of prescribed marijuana to patients diagnosed with cancer; seizures; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease; multiple sclerosis; and several other conditions. The list of qualifying conditions had been reduced from 45 to 10, eliminating maladies such as HIV/AIDS, chronic neuropathic pain, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease and diabetes, among many others.
Moreover, under terms of the amended bill, patients would have been permitted to use extracted oil, edible products, ointments and tinctures of cannabis purchased from licensed dispensaries — but not to smoke it.
Sen. Folmer said he hopes to eliminate those restrictions. The co-sponsors plan to add amendments to SB 3, which now is the same as last year’s bill, that would eliminate enumerated conditions altogether, leaving the prescribing decision to medical professionals.
“Let’s allow science to dictate this. Let’s give patients compassionate access to a quality, safe product — medically speaking — that’s prescribed by doctors and alongside of that to allow research to continue,” he said.
He is most supportive of patients being able to use marijuana with a vaporizer or nebulizer.
Patrick K. Nightingale, a Pittsburgh attorney who serves as executive director of Pittsburgh’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws branch, said medical marijuana advocates are encouraged by signals coming from Harrisburg.
“Lawmakers are passionate and being educated to see marijuana as medicine. We’re seeing day-in and day-out progress in the country; 2015 is going to be the beginning of the end of the war on cannabis in Pennsylvania.”
But even after passage, some states have had problems getting their programs up and running. For example, New Jersey’s legalized medical marijuana law was supposed to become effective six months after it was signed on Jan. 18, 2010. However, Gov. Chris Christie has proven a political impediment to full implementation. Only four dispensaries have opened.
Sen. Folmer said Pennsylvania will study the experiences of other states so as not to repeat mistakes made elsewhere. Even if the bill passes by June, as he hopes, it will take Pennsylvania at least until mid-2016 to develop the infrastructure for prescribing and dispensing marijuana, he said .
But for Sens. Folmer, Leach and other advocates of medical marijuana, that’s a “problem” they look forward to dealing with.
“This is not about recreation. This is about medicine. The fear of this I just don’t get. What Sen. Leach and I are trying to do is to bring this true medical, nontoxic, nonaddictive, [healing] benefit to as many Pennsylvanians as possible.”
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