HARRISBURG, Pa. (May 13, 2015) – By a wide margin yesterday, the Pennsylvania state Senate passed a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes, effectively blocking in practice the federal prohibition on the same. The vote was 40-7.
Introduced by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) with 27 bipartisan co-sponsors, Senate Bill 3 (SB3) would set up a program that allows a market – both for and non-profit – in the growth, production, commerce and use of marijuana for specified medical purposes, something federal law considers illegal.
SB3 passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 4 with a 21-4 vote. The bill previously passed through the Senate State Government Committee unanimously with a 10-0 vote on April 21. With a partisan makeup of 30 Republicans and 19 Democrats, the 40-7 vote in the Senate yesterday was significant.
SB3 would create a State Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing program that would allow the growing and dispensing of medical marijuana by licensed individuals for use by qualifying patients. The board would be able to license up to 65 medical marijuana processors, 65 marijuana growers and 130 dispensaries around the state.
Unlike many other states, growers, processors and dispensers are expressly authorized to for-profit entities, something supporters say will help expand the market quickly. The bill also contains a reciprocity provision that would allow medical marijuana patients from other states to qualify under the Pennsylvania program.
Qualifying conditions include cancer, epilepsy and seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cachexia/wasting syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury and postconcussion syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinocerebellara Ataxia (SCA), posttraumatic stress disorder, severe fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma. The legislation also includes a mechanism to expand the qualifying conditions beginning in 2017.
As more states take marijuana policy into their own hands, the federal government has become increasingly incapable of enforcing its prohibition. They simply lack the resources to stop the tidal wave. For those concerned about the health care and personal choices of people living in Pennsylvania, this cannot come too soon.
Although this bill draws a legal distinction between recreational and medical marijuana, it still represents an enormous step in the right direction for cannabis rights advocates in the state of Pennsylvania. The top-down federal mandates that have failed for so many decades are being replaced with a more decentralized, compassionate approach that is responsive to the needs of the people.
Activists should embrace any opportunity that they have to make it more difficult for people to be locked in cages for the non-violent non-crime of marijuana possession. The end of the federal drug war is on its way whether detractors like it or not. Measures such as SB3 can help grease the wheels on our way toward that inevitable goal!
SB3 now moves to the state House, where it will first be assigned to a committee. If it makes it out of the committee phase, the full House will have an opportunity to concur.