Pennsylvania Senate Surprises Advocates By Passing Medical Marijuana Bill

Pennsylvania officially has a fighting chance at legalizing a comprehensive medical marijuana program in 2016.

On Tuesday, after spending the past few weeks rattling the nerves of cannabis advocates across the state, the Pennsylvania Senate voted 42 to 7 in favor of a proposal that would allow patients suffering from a variety of debilitating conditions to have access to cannabis.

As predicted, however, the Senate did not put its stamp of approval on the bill before making some slight adjustments to the House version, which was pushed through by a majority vote back in March. The latest revision to SB 3 must now go before the House of Representatives for a second time in order to determine whether lawmakers there agree with the amendments.

Although the House majority leader recently said that he couldn’t guarantee the bill would be discussed again in the House if the Senate made any changes, it appears the tweaks were minor enough to almost ensure the bill’s passage within the next few days.

There is speculation that members of the House could take a vote on the updated measure as early as Wednesday, putting the bill in a position to be sent to the office of Governor Tom Wolf for a signature sometime next week. Unfortunately, the possibility also exists that the proposal could be held off until the next legislative session begins in May.

But marijuana advocates believe that any additional amendments or delays on this issue would be a disservice to the patients who have fought for well over a year to set this bill in action. They are calling for the House to do the right thing and simply concur with the latest Senate version in an effort to put effective medicine in the hands of those in need.

“Pennsylvania patients and their families have had to work far too hard and for far too long to gain legal access to medical marijuana,” Becky Dansky, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, told HIGH TIMES in an emailed statement. “They should not have to wait any longer. We urge the House to concur tomorrow, so we can begin the process of implementing this important program.”

At its core, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program now stands to service patients with the following 17 conditions: cancer; HIV/AIDS, 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, autism, neuropathic pain, and severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapies, including prescription opiates, are ineffective. 

Although patients would have access to full strength cannabis products, which would include pills, oils and tinctures, the latest Senate version still explicitly prohibits marijuana to be sold or consumed in its raw form. This means smoking pot, even for patients cleared to participate in the program, would remain illegal, and possession of smokable cannabis could still lead to criminal penalties. Of course, due to this unsavory provision, patients would also be forbidden to engage in home cultivation.

If the House approves the Senate’s latest version, Pennsylvania will almost certainly become the 24th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. Governor Wolf, who has been an avid supporter of pot reform since being elected, has been waiting for more than a year to put his signature on legislation aimed at bringing cannabis medicine to the people of the Keystone State.

“I want to thank the members of the Senate for their passage of the medical marijuana legalization bill, and I am urging the House to take quick action in order to send this bill to my desk for a signature,” Governor Wolf said in a statement. “It is finally time to provide long overdue medical relief to patients and families who could benefit from the legalization of medical marijuana. We should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy.” 

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