Sick Pennsylvanians at the mercy of the Pennsylvanian House with Senate Bill 3.

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The Pennsylvania Senate is poised to once again pass a medicinal cannabis bill. Senate Bill 3, essentially a mirror of the bill that passed 43 – 7 in the last legislative session, could be voted on as early as today. Prime sponsors Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Bucks) are confident of passage. The bill will then proceed to the House.

Senate Bill 3 would establish a regulatory scheme through which licenses to grow, process and dispense medicinal cannabis would be established. Patients with “qualifying conditions” would be permitted to apply for a medicinal cannabis card upon the recommendation of their physician, provided the condition is one of the approved conditions on the list as set forth in the bill.

The bill remains very limited in scope, restricting qualifying conditions to a list of 15 that includes seizure disorder, cancer, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, PTSD, Diabetes and ALS. Eligible patients may receive a medical cannabis recommendation from their treating physician and then purchase medicinal cannabis products from a licensed medicinal cannabis dispensary. An advisory board to be formed may add qualifying conditions, but not until July, 2017.

Senate Bill 3 also restricts the manner in which a patient may both purchase and consume medicinal cannabis. Vaporization, one of the safest and most effective means of medicinal cannabinoid delivery, is restricted to three conditions – seizures, cancer treatment and PTSD, and must be specifically recommended by a physician. Further, the method of vaporization must be specifically authorized by the Board. Gone is the nonsensical “nebulizer”. The Bill also prohibits medicinal edible cannabis products, though it permits a patient to produce edible cannabis products at home.

The effort to pass a medicinal cannabis bill now turns to the House of Representatives where it faces an uncertain future. If the House hearings convened by Health Committee Chair Matt Baker are any indication, some in the House continue to believe cannabis has no medical efficacy, that it lacks scientific and medical evidence, and that Pennsylvania must wait for FDA approval. Rep. Baker, for his part, remains an immovable force urging parents with critically ill children to simply wait for pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs.

It seems incredible to activists, patients and supporters that medicinal cannabis enjoys 88% support here in the Commonwealth but the future of a medicinal cannabis bill remains uncertain. Were Governor Wolf to sign the legislation today patients would still face a two to three year wait before a single gram of PA produced and distributed medicinal cannabis was available for purchase. The cruel irony is that medicinal cannabis products are already available in twenty-three other states. Children with intractable epilepsy in Michigan can treat with medicinal cannabis oil, while children in PA must continue to wait.

The fight to bring even a limited medicinal cannabis program to Pennsylvania is far from over. Senate Bill 3 now moves to the House where its future is far from certain. Will the House cave to “refer madness” scaremongering and further restrict the legislation? Could it even die in Committee? Will back-door maneuvering further delay implementation of a medicinal program? Can Pennsylvanians afford to just wait and wait when relief is available a zip code or two away?
Patrick K. Nightingale, Esquire
Executive Director
Pittsburgh NORML