The Pennsylvania House has passed medical-marijuana legislation by a vote of 149-43. The fight that has been ongoing since 2009
has cleared its biggest hurdle, and Senate Bill 3 (as the medical-marijuana bill is called) will now move back to the Senate, where it most recently passed 40-7. If it's approved there, Gov. Tom Wolf will surely sign the bill into law, as he has repeatedly pledged his support for medical marijuana.
For the past two days, the bill was debated on the House floor for more than six hours total. The bill's 207 amendments were whittled down to about 30. Chris Goldstein, of Philly NORML, a weed-advocacy organization, says that many of the original amendments were duplicitous. But the amendments that passed included some real wins for medical-marijuana advocates, says Goldstein.
Republican Rep. Russ Diamond, of Lebanon County, proposed removing the 10 percent THC limit from the bill, which passed. THC is the component of the cannabis plant that gets users high, but also has many medical benefits including pain relief and aid in sleeping, and provides help for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress and glaucoma.
Republican Rep. Ron Marisco, of Dauphin County, was also in favor of axing the THC limit, and included an amendment that said that cannabis plants or dried cannabis flowers could be distributed to patients, which also passed. The amendment prohibits patients from smoking the plants, but allows for vaporization. Autism was also added to the qualifying list of conditions for patients.
Legalization of medical marijuana would be a victory for sick people who've long claimed it could help relieve their suffering. Last July, City Paper
wrote about one Pittsburgh mother who had become so fed up with waiting that she is willing to break the law
to provide cannabis medication to her sick children. Republican Rep. Mike Regan of York County spoke in support of the bill in front of the house before the vote. "People are wondering if they will get arrested or incarcerated for helping themselves or a loved one trying to get medical marijuana," Regan said. "I think of those who are illegally healing every day."
However, advocates do not consider the current bill to be ideal. In fact, Goldstein called some amendments passed by the House "chilling." Medical-marijuana physicians must now register with the Department of Health and their names, businesses and medical credentials will be publicly available under the state's Right-To-Know Act. Goldstein thinks that the physician's information eventually will be made public when the regulatory process is finalized (a process which could take 2-3 years
Goldstein says this is similar to what New Jersey did with its medical-marijuana law, and as a result the Garden State has seen low registry of physicians, which led to low patient registration. He says New Jersey has about 6,500 medical-marijuana patients, when its plan envisioned more than 100,000 patients when it was passed in 2010.
According to the bill, Pennsylvania has an initial limit of 25 licensed growers and 50 licensed dispensaries. (Dispensaries are allowed to have up to three locations). To become growers, applicants must have $2 million in capital and provide a $500,000 deposit. For dispensary applicants, they must have $150,000 in capital and pay a $5,000 application fee and a $30,000 annual registration fee.
Democratic Rep. Ed Gainey, of East Liberty, introduced an amendment, which was passed, requiring diversity goals that would promote and ensure the inclusion of minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses. And a provision was passed that bars dispensaries, growers and processors from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or day-care center, unless within a Keystone Opportunity Zone, an area of underutilization that receives tax breaks.
With the bill headed back to the state senate, Goldstein expects a long concurrence process, during which state senators are permitted to add additional amendments, then send it to the House, and back again if necessary. Only after the House and Senate agree on all the language, will the bill see Gov. Tom Wolf's desk. If the bill is not signed into law before the year is out, the process will have to start all over again.