MMJ Moves a Step Forward in Pennsylvania

On Nov. 18, 2015, the Pennsylvania House Rules Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. SB3 now goes to the full House, which could vote on it as early as today, Nov. 23, 2015. The bill has the support of Gov. Tom Wolf, so House approval is the last step. Bob Morgan, a health care regulatory and policy attorney with Much Shelist, describes the bill as “the most likely piece of legislation to pass out of the Pennsylvania legislature in the next month.”

He added, though, that “there is concern about a number of amendments that could be added to the bill. Some of the issues involve a cap on THC. There is also some discussion about whole plant, as opposed to tinctures and oils.” Negotiations continue at this point.


10 Things You Should Know about SB3

Support for cannabis legalization has soared in the U.S. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 90 percent of Pennsylvania voters favor legalizing medical marijuana.

As currently drafted, SB3 prohibits smoking or vaporizing marijuana, much like the restrictive provisions of New York’s medical marijuana statute. In other ways, however, the bill embraces best practices developed by other jurisdictions.

  • The list of 16 conditions for which a doctor may recommend marijuana is fairly comprehensive, including PTSD, chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy and seizures, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and any other condition authorized by the Department of Health. In July 2017, the Commonwealth will begin to accept petitions to expand the list of conditions.
  • The bill provides for three tiers of licensing, for growers, processors and dispensaries, as Maryland does.
  • It permits the licensing of up to 65 growers, 65 processors and 130 dispensaries. This compares favorably, for instance, with the nine dispensaries currently licensed in Illinois, a state with a comparable population.
  • The bill would impose a single 6 percent surcharge on sales to dispensaries.

In other ways, SB3 appears to break fresh ground to address the needs and concerns of patients.

  • It provides for reciprocity for patients from other states who suffer from a condition recognized in Pennsylvania, if the patient’s home state offers similar reciprocal rights to Pennsylvania patients.
  • It eases access to medical marijuana for veterans receiving treatment from Veterans Administration physicians.
  • SB3 permits public consumption of medical marijuana in locations including as public transportation, school grounds, parks, beaches and correctional facilities.
  • Most importantly for the civil rights of medical marijuana patients, SB3 protects legal patients in childcare, custody and neglect proceedings; it prohibits employers from discriminating against medical marijuana patients in employment; it prevents landlords from refusing to lease or otherwise penalizing patients solely for having a medical cannabis access card or using medical cannabis; and it prevents schools from excluding students who are medical marijuana users on that basis alone.

SB3 appears to have a decent chance of passage. The benefits of the law could be seriously undermined through the amendment process. Nonetheless, the aspects of the bill that deal with licensing, taxation, included conditions and patient rights could provide a model for states yet to embrace medical marijuana. The end of November could bring big changes for patients who might benefit from cannabis in Pennsylvania.

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