Why 2015 could be the year for medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania


By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

Medical marijuana legislation will get a second chance in 2015.

The bipartisan pair of state senators who pushed for legalization during 2014 announced this week they will re-introduce the same text of a bill approved by the state Senate with a 43-7 vote in September. The bill didn’t receive a vote from the House of Representatives before the two-year legislative session came to a close Nov. 30.

JOINING THE CROWD: Pennsylvania could join 21 other states in legalizing the use of medical marijuana. With a new governor in office, prospects are high.

Since it will be a new legislative session when lawmakers return to Harrisburg in January, the bill will have to start over again at the beginning of the process. But there is good reason to believe 2015 could be the year Pennsylvania legalizes marijuana as a treatment for some chronic ailments.

The goal of the legislation is to provide additional options for those suffering from seizure-caused diseases, said state Sens. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, and Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, in a joint statement.

“Some children suffer hundreds of seizures a day, making normal childhood development impossible and forcing parents to helplessly watch their children suffer,” they said. “Prescribed narcotic cocktails of highly addictive and dangerous drugs have little effect on these disorders and often offer only a few weeks or months of pause in the decline of a child’s health.”

The Senate-passed medical marijuana bill would allow people suffering from cancer, epilepsy, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, MS, PTSD and other brain and neurological diseases to use medical marijuana. An expected 250,000 Pennsylvanians would sign up for a medical marijuana license, according to an analysis from the Senate Appropriations Committee. A license would cost $100.

Leach and Folmer say 21 other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws regarding medical marijuana, though there is quite a bit of variety from state to state.

Getting the bill through the state Senate a second time should be a relatively easy task. Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, announced this week he was co-sponsoring the bill.

In the House, Republican leaders say they want to hold a series of hearings on the proposal to allow law enforcement and other interest groups to have a say.

There are also concerns about the creation of a new bureaucracy within the state government — the State Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing, which the bill would create to license and regulate marijuana growers, processors and dispensers.

If those worries can be addressed, the change in the governor’s office should be the final piece to the legalization puzzle.

Outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett was opposed to broad legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. He favored a limited clinical trial run by a handful of hospitals instead.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf takes a different view.

We need to legalize medical marijuana immediately,” Wolf said during the third gubernatorial debate in October.

During the campaign, Wolf suggested the state could examine the possibility of recreational legalization, as has been approved in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. Though he has also said Pennsylvania ought to wait and see what happens in those other places where recreational use is already on the books.

Full legalization is probably farther off in the distance. No state has approved recreational legalization except via a ballot measure, and Pennsylvania doesn’t have a mechanism to easily put those types of issues on the ballot. Even the most progressive legislative bodies tend to lag behind the general public on issues like this (though Philadelphia has essentially decriminalized the possession of marijuana already).

But long-suffering advocates for medical marijuana have reason to believe 2015 will be the year Pennsylvania joins a growing number of states with legal cannabis.