Pennsylvania House Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Qualifying Patients, 149-43

HARRISBURG, Penn. (Mar. 23, 2016) – The Pennsylvania House has passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. If ultimately signed into law, it would take another step toward blocking the deplorable federal prohibition on on cannabis in effect.

Introduced by State Sen. Michael Folmer (R-Lebanon), Senate Bill 3 (SB3) would set up a state regulatory regime that would allow medical marijuana to make its way into the hands of the sick. It passed the Senate on May 5, 2015 with a 40-7 vote, remained active this year, and passed the House on Mar. 16 with a 149-43 vote. Because the bill was amended, the Senate will have to approve it once more before it can move on to the Governor’s desk.

“We will look at the effects of all the passed amendments to ensure the bill that reaches the Governor’s desk and becomes law,” Sen. Folmer said in a Facebook comment about future developments for SB3 in the Senate.

SB3 would create a Medical Marijuana Advisory Board program that would allow the growing and dispensing of medical marijuana by licensed individuals for use by qualifying patients. Initially, the board would be able to license up to 25 medical marijuana processors and 50 dispensaries but the total may be increased at their discretion.

Qualifying conditions include cancer, epilepsy or seizures, glaucoma, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, spinal tissue damage, multiple sclerosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, autism, sickle cell anemia, and the neuropathies.

The bill contains penalties for unlicensed growers, including a civil penalty for each violation, while providing protections for patients against losing child custody, visitation rights, or being deprived of employment due to the use of medical marijuana.

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as SB3 remain perfectly lawful, and there is little if anything the feds can do to stop them in practice.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of this bill would partially remove one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in Pennsylvania, but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any legal authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While this Pennsylvania bill would not alter federal law, they would take a step toward thwarting in effect the federal ban. 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 99 percent of marijuana 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.

If the Pennsylvania legislature passes this bill, the Keystone State would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. 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 stopping 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.

NEXT UP

SB3 will be considered again the Senate. It must be re-approved by the full Senate before it can be sent to the governor’s desk.