By a vote of 43-7, the Pennsylvania State Senate has approved “The Medical Cannabis Act,” legislation that legalizes some limited uses of medical marijuana. 84 percent of Pennsylvanians say they support medical marijuana. This bill is a limited, but essential, first step in matching Pennsylvania’s drug laws to people’s expectations.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Montgomery County’s State Senator Daylin Leach, is designed to mirror medical marijuana laws in 23 states. The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives, where it faces stiffer opposition from Republicans who argue that drug policy should be left to the federal government. Should it pass that house in the limited time remaining in this legislative session, Governor Corbett has indicated that he will not sign it.
SB 1182 (full text here) requires patients with qualified medical conditions to have authorization from a doctor in order to obtain the necessary access card. Qualified medical conditions include treatment for cancer, epilepsy and seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injuries and post concussion syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinocerebellara ataxia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and severe fibromyalgia. The bill directs the State Departments of Agriculture and Health, respectively, to oversee, license, and regulate the cultivation of cannabis and its eventual distribution. The bill allows medical cannabis to be used in any public place, including public transportation, on school grounds, in public parks, and in a correctional institution.
But this is not a rerun of Cheech and Chong. The legislation specifically legalizes only a particular strain of cannabis to be distributed in an oil-based, non-smoking form that is designed to be ingested. Popularly named “Charlotte’s Web,” this strain has heightened anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, but lowered THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. In fact, the bill prohibits smoking. This form capitalizes on the beneficial medical aspects of cannabis use, while minimizing its psychoactive effect.
Significantly, SB 1182 provides that authorized users and suppliers are immune from arrest when acting in accordance with the act and establishes a rebuttable presumption that a person is engaged in medical cannabis use when they possess an authorized access card. Compliance with the act is an affirmative defense to any drug prosecution. Furthermore, law enforcement is restrained from destroying, damaging, or altering an individual’s supply of medical cannabis if they possess an access card. The Medical Cannabis Act also provides that an individual’s use of medical cannabis cannot be used to discriminate against them any rights or privileges they would otherwise have, including but not limited to their child custody rights, right to school enrollment, and hiring practices of an employer.
The State Senate Appropriations Committee expects that the Commonwealth would collect nearly $40 million dollars in fees and revenue surcharges in fiscal year 2014-2015, with that number lowering somewhat in subsequent years while still remaining revenue-positive.
We will keep you updated as to this bill’s progression through the Pennsylvania General Assembly.