Harrisburg, PA – Pennsylvania is set to become the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana after the state House passed an amended version of Senate bill SB3 on Wednesday. Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign the bill into law Sunday.
The 149-46 vote approving the measure came one day after the state Senate voted to accept amendments requested by the House by a 42-7 margin. The Senate originally passed the legislation in May of last year, but the House added numerous revisions at the time sparking lengthy debate.
The amended version allows for over stricter oversight and anti-fraud ID certifications. It retains provisions to bar dispensaries form operating within 1,000 feet of schools, but according to reports would allow closer distance if the location is necessary to provide adequate access to patients, such as in more densely populated regions like Philadelphia.
Once signed by the governor, the law will take effect in 30 days and the department of health, which will oversee 25 growers/processors and 50 dispensaries, will have six months to develop temporary regulations.
“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.”
The bill capped several years of lobbying by parents, who claim a marijuana oil extract can help relieve the daily seizures that have left their children in wheelchairs or functioning far below their grade levels.
Under terms of the measure, patients could take marijuana in pill, oil, vapor or liquid form, but would not be able to legally grow the plants or obtain marijuana to smoke. Provisions set standards for tracking marijuana plants, certifying physicians and licensing growers, dispensaries and physicians.
The legislation’s list of 17 qualifying diagnosed conditions includes cancer, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and glaucoma.
Following the House vote, Scott Shapiro, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), said in a statement that the group has serious concerns about the effectiveness of medical marijuana but hopes patients, especially children, see positive outcomes.
The statement went on to say that PAMED is encouraged that the legislation contains provisions that recognize the benefit and need for additional clinical research.
“In light of the passage of this legislation, it is our hope that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance is reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods,” Shapiro said.
Physicians must be registered by the state to certify that a patient has an eligible condition and a patient must get a Department of Health-issued ID card.
While legislators expect it will take two years before final regulations are written and retailers are ready to sell to patients, a safe harbor provision in the bill would allow parents to avoid the wait by legally buying medical marijuana from another state for their children.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, lawmakers promised to legalize medical marijuana by the summer, before voters get a chance to decide a ballot question in the fall election.
In that state on Wednesday, lawmakers set an aggressive schedule for legislation that would allow licensed doctors to prescribe edibles, patches, plant material and oils. Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican who chaired a medical marijuana task force, said it will prohibit home growing, which he says is too difficult to control.
(Sources: Marc Levy and Julie Carr Smyth of the Associated Press; Pennsylvania Medical Society; Marijuana Policy Project; PA.gov)