Pennsylvania has an extra special reason to celebrate 4/20 this year: last weekend the state passed its first medical marijuana law.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law with large crowd of advocates watching on Sunday April 17, making Pennsylvania the 24th state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana use.
Democratic state Senator Daylin Leach of Montgomery County has championed medical marijuana since he introduced legislation in 2010. He was finally able to remove a green "Campaign for Compassion" bracelet he had been wearing for three years and given to him by a mother of a sick child (he promised to not take off until a medical marijuana bill was passed). Leach also lauded the bipartisan support and hard work of state legislators to get the bill done.
"We stopped being Democrats and started being caregivers. We stopped being Republicans and started being patients. We stopped being politicians and started being human beings," said Leach in his remarks during the bill's signing ceremony. "The result is the most significant piece of social legislation to pass in generations. It is among our proudest moments, and it is our gift to the generations to come."
Mike Folmer, a Republican state Senator from Dauphin County, emerged as one of the bill’s biggest supporters in the last few year. He says he's elated that Pennsylvanians will have legal access to a medication that is “114 times less deadly than alcohol.”
“It seems kind of surreal,” says Folmer. “This battle started two and a half years ago. I am just so happy for the patients.”
The bill, which finally cleared the house in March after a six-year battle
, went through a speedy congruence process. Folmer says the Senate was careful to use the same language as the House bill when making minor changes.
“This was a total team effort,” says Folmer. “We were not trying to sneak in anything. We were just making sure it could work and government could implement it.”
Patrick Nightingale of marijuana-advocacy group Pittsburgh NORML, says the congruence process did not include any major changes to the House’s version of the bill
“There are a lot of people in Harrisburg who deserve praise,” says Nightingale. “Mike folmer is an absolute saint.”
In fact, it appears that some of the new language offers more leniency to a couple of the bill’s provisions. When the bill passed the House, there was a clause that states dispensaries may not be located 1000 feet from schools or daycare centers. Nightingale says that clause was altered and now the Health Department board (who is in charge of building the program up) can amend the 1000 foot rule for specific dispensaries if there is evidence that it is necessary to “provide adequate access to patients” and can provide additional security at schools if the 1000 foot rule was changed.
Nightingale also says the board can recommend adding plant material, like marijuana flowers, to the list of accepted medications two years
after the bill was signed into law. When the plan is ready for implementation in two years, Nightingale believes the demand will be there for flowers.
“People worked very hard on this bill,” says Nightingale. “It is not perfect, far from it, but I walk away from this happy we don't have a watered down CBD-only bill. This is the best our political structure could do at the current status.”
And while the political process seemed to move quicker than most expected, there was still one dissenter who reminded everyone where he stood. Republican Rep. Matt Baker of Tioga County filibustered (something he has done repeatedly when medical-marijuana bills have come to House floor for a vote) for more than 45 minutes on fears of marijuana’s long term consequences, according to Nightingale. The bill passed the house by a vote of 149-46.