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March 27, 2016

Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill faces limbo in Senate

State senators flag concerns about bill's functionality as patients, advocates urge passage

Legislation Medical Marijuana
Marijuana file art/for PhillyVoice


Building momentum to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, bolstered by an overwhelming 149-43 vote in the state House of Representatives, could be in jeopardy after several state senators raised concerns this week about the amended bill and the technical implementation of the program.

What originated as a 69-page bill in the Senate grew to 154 pages in the House of Representatives prior to the vote held earlier this month. While Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to sign the final legislation, senators including the bill's co-sponsor, Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), say the revisions could prove so problematic as to derail its passage, according to The Morning Call.

Even after an uphill battle to get the bill approved in the House, any final legislation would take several years to implement statewide. If the revised bill is extensively marked up and sent back to the House, momentum behind the legislation could grind to a halt before a debate and another vote comes to pass. Patients and advocates who have strenuously pushed for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania would then face a much more uncertain future.

Folmer's chief of staff, Fred Sembach, said concerns in the Senate surround the functionality of the bill. From The Morning Call:

"I think, at least from the Senate side, there is a commitment to doing this right and doing it quickly. The question is what is the best option: concurrence or attempt to fix it now so we're not just giving a kid a toy at Christmas without batteries."

Among the issues noted in the House bill is a regulation that would prohibit marijuana dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of a school, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), also a co-sponsor of the bill, said this parameter would make it a particular challenge to open a dispensary in Center City. Senators also questioned the two bills' discrepancy in language over "license" and "registration" as the appropriate regulation for marijuana growers, processors and dispensers to operate within the law.

The legislation calls for the establishment of a licensing and regulatory system to cover dispensaries and doctors across Pennsylvania. In total, according to the York Dispatch, the bill would license up to 25 growers and processors while allowing as many as 50 dispensaries each to operate three locations.

Physicians statewide would be enrolled in a four-hour course detailing the latest scientific research on medical marijuana. Those who wish to participate in the program would have to submit an application to become registered to prescribe the drug in pill, oil and ointment form for any of 17 qualifying conditions.

As The Morning Call notes, medical marijuana advocates are urging the Senate to pass the bill in its current form and fix the remaining issues during the period prior to the program's implementation.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill during the week of April 4. If it is approved, Pennsylvania would become the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.

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