Pennsylvania House close to vote this week on medical marijuana
March 14, 2016 12:00 AM
Julie Michaels, left, shares a moment with her daughter Sydney, 5, of Connellsville as Antania Hawkins, 10, of Beechview sleeps during a rally in support of the legalization of medical marijuana at the Allegheny Court House on April 29, 2015. Both Sydney and Antania have Dravet syndrome, a form of severe intractable epilepsy.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — After months on the back burner, legislation to permit the medical use of marijuana in Pennsylvania is scheduled for a House vote this week.
The Senate approved medical marijuana bills in September 2014 and again in May 2015, and Gov. Tom Wolf supports allowing the treatment. But the legislation, which would establish a highly regulated industry and which faced opposition from some House Republican leaders, did not fly through the House. The chamber held hearings and convened a task force to study the issue.
Now, the House is scheduled to consider amendments to the bill today and then take a final vote Tuesday or possibly Wednesday, said House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin. A bill amended by the House would have to return to the Senate for its approval.
More than 200 amendments have been filed to the Senate bill, Mr. Miskin said, with a comprehensive amendment from Rep. Ron Masico, R-Dauphin and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, potentially having support from Republicans and Democrats.
The proposal would establish a program to make marijuana available to patients who have one of a list of conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses. Patients would need certification from a doctor to obtain marijuana.
Patients could receive marijuana in a pill, oil or through vaporization, among other forms. Smoking would not be allowed, and dispensaries would not be permitted to sell edibles containing marijuana, though patients could incorporate marijuana into food. It would establish rules for growers and dispensaries, as well as an advisory board to oversee the state’s handling of medical marijuana.
Growers and processors would be required to pay a tax of 5 percent of receipts of their sales of medical marijuana to dispensaries. Forty-five percent of the money would be available to pay for operating the medical marijuana system; 30 percent to pay for research about medical marijuana; 10 percent for drug abuse prevention, counseling and treatment; 10 percent for local police departments; and 5 percent for the state police to conduct background checks.
Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democrats, said he expects the House will pass a medical marijuana bill.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” he said.
Advocates for medical marijuana have been a presence at the state Capitol as the legislation has wound its way through the General Assembly. Julie Michaels, a resident of Connellsville in Fayette County, estimated she has made 15 to 20 trips to Harrisburg to advocate for medical marijuana. Ms. Michaels believes the treatment might help her daughter Sydney, 6, who has Dravet syndrome, an intractable form of epilepsy. She said marijuana has helped children with Sydney’s symptoms have fewer seizures.
“I’d just love the chance to try,“ Ms. Michaels said.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who in May 2015 hosted supporters of medical marijuana at the official Harrisburg governor’s residence, on Friday urged the House and Senate to pass a bill.
“I support the legalization of medical marijuana so we can finally provide much needed relief to families and children,” Mr. Wolf said in a statement. “It is time to legalize medical marijuana because we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures says that 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Guam, allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana programs, while 17 states allow some use of marijuana products that are low in THC, the main psychoactive compound.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141
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