New Pennsylvania Law Legalizing Medical Marijuana Now in Effect; Sets Foundation to Stop Federal Prohibition

HARRISBURG, Pa. (May 20, 2016) – A new Pennsylvania law legalizing medical marijuana went into effect this week, but it will likely take up to a year before the system is up and running. Pennsylvania is the 24th state to reject the deplorable federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.

The bill took a long, tough road to final passage. Sen. Michael Folmer (R-Lebanon) introduced Senate Bill 3 (SB3) in Jan. 2015. The new law legalizes marijuana for medical use and sets up a regulatory structure for the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis to qualifying patients in the state.

SB3 passed the Senate on May 5, 2015, by a 40-7 vote. It was carried over to the current legislative session, and an amended version passed the House on Mar. 16 by a 149-43 vote. The Senate approved amendments of its own, and sent the legislation back to the House. Last week, the House gave final approval by a 149-46 margin.


The new law empowers regulators to license up to 25 marijuana cultivators and processors, and up to 150 dispensaries in the state. Qualified patients will need to obtain a recommendation from select physicians. Patients with any of the 17 qualifying medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, assorted neurological and gastrointestinal disorders, autism, among others, qualify to use medical marijuana.

The measure permits for dispensing herbal cannabis via vaporization, as well as the use of marijuana-infused extracts or oils, but it does not permit smoking.

While the law went into effect today, it will likely take a year or more before patients can actually access medicinal cannabis in the state.According to Pennsylvania lawyer Dan Clearfield, it will take time to get the regulatory structure up and running. Everybody in the process – from patent, to doctor, to grower, to the dispensaries – must be approved and licensed.

“There’s a very detailed regulatory process that’s been created. Medical marijuana that’s used in Pennsylvania, has to be from Pennsylvania. It has to be grown here. It has to be processed here and it will be tracked from cradle to grave, from seed to use…The process itself of creating regulations and dispensing licenses is probably going to take; we’re estimating a best case 12 to 13 months and probably 18 months before licenses are issued.”

All of what’s authorized under the new state law is banned under federal law. But, despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as SB3 remain perfectly lawful, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the state laws, the Pennsylvania legislature would remove some of the basis for a vast majority of arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically thwarting the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.