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April 13, 2016

Medical Marijuana bill passes Pa. House; Wolf to sign into law

State set to become 24th to allow drug for qualifying patients

Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is now all but a foregone conclusion. 

After amended legislation passed the state Senate on Tuesday, the state House voted on the bill Wednesday. It passed by a vote of 149-46.

The bill now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk for final approval. A Wolf spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that the governor is familiar with the recent changes to the bill and is expected to sign it. If he does, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to legalize the drug for medical purposes.

“Today the House passed SB3, sending the medical marijuana legalization bill to my desk. I am proud and excited to sign this bill that will provide long overdue medical relief to patients and families who could benefit from this treatment," Gov. Wolf said in a statement. "I applaud members of both parties in the House and Senate who have come together to help patients who have run out of medical options and want to thank the thousands of advocates who have fought tirelessly for this cause. I have met with patients and families, held roundtables, and urged action on this legislation since taking office, and it is encouraging that the hard work of these families has resulted in historic legislation.”

Under the new law, patients will be able to access the drug with the recommendation of their physician if they suffer from one of 17 qualifying conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, seizures and autism, among others.

Physicians statewide will be enrolled in a four-hour course detailing the latest scientific research on medical marijuana. Those who wish to participate in the program will then have to submit an application to become registered to prescribe the drug in pill, oil or ointment form.

In total, the legislation will authorize up to 25 marijuana growers and processors while allowing as many as 50 dispensaries each to operate three locations in Pennsylvania. Patients and caregivers participating in the program will receive certified identification cards from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. 

The bill's journey to Gov. Wolf's desk dates back almost a year when the Senate-approved legislation nearly tripled in size in the House of Representatives amid technical concerns over how the state planned to regulate the program. On Tuesday, after the Senate approved an amended House bill by a vote of 42-7, Senate Republicans provided an overview of the technical changes made to ensure that the law can be practically implemented. 

In Center City Philadelphia, for example, there were concerns that medical marijuana dispensaries would not be able to meet a regulation barring operation within 1,000 feet of a school. In the revised legislation, an exception can be made if the location is clearly proven "necessary to provide adequate access to patients."

In a statement, Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), the bill's primary sponsor, rejoiced at the implications of the bill for families and patients who have visited his office over the years. 

Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

As the Pennsylvania House overwhelmingly passed my Senate Bill 3 today to provide for medical cannabis, 149 – 46, sending it to the Governor, I’m reminded of this quote. Reminded of almost three years ago when two mothers came into my office advocating for a safe medical alternative to help their children, advocating for a natural plant that could significantly reduce their daughters’ seizures.

Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Conklin (D-77th) provided a video statement explaining the bill's vital significance as a tool to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. 

Medical marijuana activists likewise celebrated the bill's approval in the House of Representatives.

“We are overjoyed that the legislature has finally agreed on a comprehensive bill to help alleviate our suffering,” said Latrisha Bentch, a founding member of the Campaign for Compassion and the mother of a girl who suffers from mesial temporal sclerosis. “After hearing our stories and seeing our faces day after day at the Capitol, they put politics aside and did the right thing."

“Legal access to medical marijuana is going to benefit tens of thousands of seriously ill patients in Pennsylvania,” said Becky Dansky, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “For some, it’s the best treatment option. For others, it’s the only treatment option."

Patrick Nightingale, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, praised state legislators for the work in a post outlining next steps for the medical community. 

“PAMCS will work to educate our physicians, provide relevant resources and materials, and foster a community where physicians and medical professionals can openly discuss treatment options for patients with qualifying conditions," Nightingale said. “Our fervent hope is to make medical cannabis available and affordable for all Pennsylvania citizens who might benefit from cannabis for relief from debilitating medical conditions, and to facilitate the effective establishment of a medical cannabis industry. We applaud the State Legislators who have worked for years to bring this assistance to the people of Pennsylvania.”

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