Pa. Senate Passes Bill to Legalize Medicinal Marijuana

Legalizing medical marijuana takes the next step.

After a charged debate, Bill 1182 was passed in the Pennsylvania senate in a 43-7 vote, one that would allow state residents to buy, possess and use medicinal marijuana for a qualifying condition.

Supporters for the bill included co-sponsor Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) who argued that marijuana can provide aid to thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering from debilitating illnesses like epilepsy and Multiple Sclerosis.

Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland/York) stood against the bill, disapproving of the kind of message being sent to kids by allowing the use of an illegal drug. One of the biggest motivators for the bill, however, was medical marijuana’s potential to treat severe epileptic seizures in children. An advocacy called “The Moms” gave testimony at a hearing in January on the subject.

“I would like the opportunity to try medical cannabis for my son’s seizures, but I can’t because there are outdated laws that prevent me from doing so,” said Deena Keeney, who spoke on behalf of “The Moms” about her son Christopher.

To qualify for treatment, patients are required to have an access card from the Health Department. They would also need to prove they are a regular patient of a physician who recommends medical cannabis as a treatment option. Extracted marijuana oils, edible products and ointments and tinctures may be used as treatment options, but the marijuana cannot be smoked or vaporized. Qualifying conditions include: cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, spinocerebellara ataxia and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The legislation would also establish a State Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing to regulate up to 65 medical cannabis growers, up to 65 processors and up to 130 medical cannabis dispensers.

Those who wanted to grow, produce or dispense the product would pay $50,000 for an initial licensing fee and $5,000 as an annual renewal fee. The legislation would prohibit them from being located within $1,000 feet of a school or day-care center.

Despite the victory for supporters of the bill, it has a long way to go before going into action. Governor Tom Corbett has already threatened to veto the bill. Supporters also face a time deadline of November when the legislation session ends.

“It’s been a long road to this point and we have a long road ahead of us,” Folmer said. “But with 85 percent of Pennsylvanians supporting the use of medical cannabis to treat our most vulnerable, I am optimistic we can get this done.”