Pennsylvania may be well be on its way to becoming the next state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program.
On Wednesday, following a nerve-racking few days debating additional amendments, the House of Representatives voted 149 to 43 in favor of Senate Bill 3, a measure aimed at legalizing a medicinal cannabis program for patients suffering from around 17 qualified conditions — a major move forward from the nature of the original proposal.
The bill must now go before the Senate once again in hopes that the body will agree with the House and put its seal of approval on the changes made to the original language. Although the Senate voted 40 to 7 in favor of the measure in May of last year, there are some concerns that the recent amendments could be a deterrent to a majority vote. Nevertheless, reports indicate that the earliest the Senate would possibly deliberate the issue would be next Monday.
Earlier this week, HIGH TIMES reported that the updated version of Senate Bill 3 would allow patients qualified for participation in the program to have access to non-smokable forms of marijuana. Although the original proposal was to put a 10 percent THC restriction on the cannabis products manufactured and sold in Pennsylvania, there was an amendment passed on Tuesday that eliminated the cap on THC, and laid the groundwork for patients to relish in the freedom of a full-strength medical marijuana program.
While the original bill left much to be desired in the realm of qualifying conditions, the latest measure is now poised to become a dominant force in the Pennsylvania healthcare system. If the Senate approves the bill, as is, patients suffering from “cancer, HIV/AIDS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Damage to the Nervous Tissue of the Spinal Cord with Objective Neurological Indication of Intractable Spasticity, Epilepsy, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Neuropathies, Huntington’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Intractable seizures, Glaucoma, Sickle Cell Anemia, Chronic pain, and Autism” will have access to cannabis pills, oils and vapors.
Unlike some states where medical marijuana edibles have been made illegal, the House-approved version of Senate Bill 3 would give patients the freedom to produce and consume foodstuffs in their own home. Unfortunately, the language does not come with a provision that allows the manufacture or sale of these items in any of the projected 50 dispensaries.
“This has been a long and difficult journey for many patients and families, and our destination is finally in sight,” Latrisha Bentch of the Campaign for Compassion told HIGH TIMES in a statement. “We gave House members a lot of grief for not getting this done quickly, but we are grateful for the incredible bipartisan support the bill received during the floor debate and final vote. We commend them for showing that compassion is not a partisan issue.”
As long as the Senate agrees with the House version, Governor Tom Wolf is prepared to sign the bill into law. He said at the beginning of 2016 that legalizing a medical marijuana program was still one of his top priorities. This week, during the House debates, the governor met with medical marijuana advocates and offered some encouraging words for those concerned about the outcome of the fight.
"As I have said for years, I support the legalization of medical marijuana and I believe it is long past time to provide this important medical relief to patients and families across the commonwealth," Wolf said in a statement.
Pennsylvania patients will know in less than a week whether the Senate appreciates the latest amendments to the bill or if it is back to the drawing board. It is crucial that the state legislature come to terms on the proposal before the end of the year, or else lawmakers will be forced to start from scratch in 2017.