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Politics Stall PA Medical Bill In House

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The medical cannabis bill SB1182 approved by the Pennsylvania State Senate has stalled in the House in spite of efforts to get House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) to move the bill out of the House Judiciary Committee quickly onto the floor of the House for a vote by the end of the current legislative session.

The GOP majority in the House wants to hold two hearings and are not ready to rubber stamp the bill sponsored by State Senators Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Leach (D-Montgomery) that passed by a 43-7 margin in the current legislative session.

A spokesman for Representative Turzai points out that it took the Senate nearly a year to craft the legislation and it would be “unrealistic and irresponsible” to vote on this bill in less than two weeks when “it creates an entire new bureaucracy”.  The majority leader will look to build support for the bill within the members of GOP in the House before taking it to the floor for a vote next year.

The 25-membered House Judiciary Committee chaired by House Representative Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) will hold the hearings in mid-November and December or perhaps early January that will be set up by the House Health Committee chaired by House Representative Matthew Baker (R-Tioga).  The hearings will center on testimony from the US Food and Drug Administration, Department of Justice, medical professionals and the families of patients advocating for passing the bill with alacrity.

Mr. Baker, a staunch opponent of the Senate bill, is currently up for re-election against a Democrat opponent Jonathan Ruth who supports the bill.  Mr. Turzai is also up for re-election but is running un-opposed.

The bill passed by the Senate was harshly criticized as being “lame” for the severe modifications made to the initial draft of the bill including removing smoking and vaporizing as well as eliminating many qualifying conditions that are widely known to benefit from medical cannabis treatment including HIV, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease and diabetes to name a few.

This comes just as the city of Philadelphia has taken a giant step by decriminalizing the possession of 30 grams or less with a $25 fine and a $100 fine or community service for smoking in public. The citation would be similar to a traffic violation and not create a criminal record.

In an eleventh hour effort to quickly bring the Senate bill to a vote in the House, an amendment was proposed by Representative Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) to another bill, SB405, on generic drug equivalents scheduled to be voted on during the current session that mirrors the provisions in the Senate bill.

“It’s clear that nobody has pride of authorship with this proposal, because it’s simply about doing what’s right for the many people whose suffering can be helped by medical marijuana,” Gainey said.

“I’m hopeful that my House colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, will support my amendment so that we can send the bipartisan agreement reached in the Senate to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk before the end of this session.”

When asked about the House Republican Caucus’s likely strategy in dealing with the Mr. Gainey’s proposed amendment to SB 405, a spokesperson replied “nobody is talking about the amendment except reporters. “   Senator Leach offered, “I wish him the best of luck,” he said. “There are people who are very ill and the sooner they can get the medicine they need the better.”

Derek Rosenzweig of Philly NORML presented Representative Turzai with a petition with more than 3,000 signatures asking to bring the bill to vote by the House before the end of the session.  As Mr. Rosenzweig with an entourage of bill supporters in tow opened the door to the Representative’s office in the Capitol building in Harrisburg, a startled Mr. Turzai took off running down the hall.

“SB1182 was originally one of the best bills in the nation thanks to the careful attention of the bill’s sponsors and their willingness to listen to the advocates, patients, scientists and researchers,” Mr. Rosenzweig said addressing a rally of supporters at the state Capitol.

“I’d also like to thank the members of the Law and Justice Committee for listening closely to the testimony provided at the two hearings that they held and passing a version of SB1182 that made us all proud.”

Les Stark, the Executive Director Keystone Cannabis Coalition and tireless advocate, educator and author voiced the disappointment in the amended version of the bill and encouraged all citizens to vote out the current governor.

“The people of Pennsylvania have waited long enough! Do not make us wait another 35 years. Do not make us wait another five years!  Do not make us wait one more year!”

“We urge the House leadership and the Pa. House of Representatives to do the right thing. Allow SB 1182 to come to a vote. Do not say to our loved ones, “I’m sorry but there was not enough time.”

With just a handful of days left in the current House session, SB1182 or the Gainey amendment will not reach the floor for a vote in the GOP-controlled House weeks before an election where unpopular incumbent Republican governor who does not support the legislation while his Democrat opponent Tom Wolf does.

And so it appears that the GOP leadership in the House wants to play politics and bury this until after the election.

As recent polls showing that 85% of Pennsylvania citizens approve the use of medical cannabis, this issue could impact who voters elect as the next governor of the State of Pennsylvania.

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