Breaking Down Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Bill

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On January 15, 2015, Pennsylvania senators Daylin Leach (D-17) and Mike Folmer (R-48) formally introduced the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act (SB 1182) into the state legislature. The bill would remove marijuana as a schedule I drug in Pennsylvania and legalizes the possession of up to 1oz of cannabis flowers or 3oz of cannabis concentrates, such as oil or hashish, for patients suffering from a “debilitating medical condition.” This bill has the potential to not help thousands of people, but would make Pennsylvania one of the states at the forefront of marijuana policy reform.

The act defines a “debilitating medical condition” in Section 2 as one or more of the following: Cancer, Glaucoma, PTSD, HIV/AIDS, or any chronic medical condition that produces severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, and/or severe muscle spasms.  Additional conditions can be added at the approval of the newly established Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Board. A patient who wishes to use cannabis as a treatment option for a condition must apply for a medical cannabis identification card with the Board (Section 9.a). The patient must submit a recommendation from a medical professional, defined in the bill (Section 8.d) as a physician, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, dentist, psychiatrist, or any professional with a license to prescribe Schedule III medication. The fee for application or renewal of the cards would not exceed $100 (Section 9.a.1) and a medical cannabis ID card from another state would be considered valid in Pennsylvania. The prior criminal record of an applicant can have an impact on the board’s decision if they deem it reasonably related (Section 5.b.15).

The bill has already received a great deal of public support, which comes at no great surprise considering 85% of Pennsylvania residents support medical marijuana use. On March 31, a rally in support of the bill was held in Harrisburg that attracted a crowd of around 100 people, primarily parents of children suffering from severe seizures and epilepsy.  Cara Salemme, whose 7-year-old son Jackson suffers from multiple seizures a day, organized the rally after corresponding with other parents of children suffering from debilitating medical conditions. Salemme contacted state representatives about legalizing medical cannabis several times in the past, but has grown frustrated over the stagnancy of the bill, which has remained in committee since its introduction.

Sen. Leach attended the rally along with several other state representatives and addressed the crowd. In addition to support from the public, PhillyNORML and several other cannabis advocacy organizations have endorsed the bill. Despite the large amount of support the bill has received, Gov. Tom Corbett has stated he will not support medical marijuana until the Food and Drug Administration approves cannabis for medical use.

If SB 1182 passes, Pennsylvania would become the 21st state (along with Washington, DC) with laws that allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to seek medical marijuana as a treatment option. Passing this bill is a no brainer. Cannabis is a proven form of medication for patients undergoing severe pain or treatment, and the fact that people are actively barred from even exploring the option is unethical. Medical marijuana is by no means a cure for deadly diseases, but it is safer and more effective than many of the opiate-riddled painkillers on the pharmaceutical market today.

If you are a PA resident or want to be a part of the passage of a progressive piece of legislation, contact your local representatives to show your support and lookout for future demonstrations occurring in support of the bill.