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Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania: What are the odds it becomes legal?

As per usual, Philadelphia is more progressive than the rest of the state when it comes to weed. It’s decriminalized here, and you’re not gonna get arrested if you have less than an ounce on you. 

Making marijuana legal for medical purposes, however, is a much less contentious debate, with some Republicans on the “yes” side. Some studies have shown that cannabis is a more effective drug than any to treat some diseases from cancer to epilepsy, and as 23 states have legalized pot for medical purposes, many in Pennsylvania are starting to see green.

Two state senators will announce their plans Tuesday for introducing a bill that’d legalize medical marijuana, and two representatives in the House have already said they’ll do so, too.

Here’s the statewide low-down on getting high for your health:

What’s the status?

Not legal yet. But with widespread public support, the issue is expected to get its closeup in the state this year; one of the two Senators who plans to (re)-introduce a bill legalizing it is Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat who is one of the most liberal lawmakers in Harrisburg. Two state Representatives also plan to introduce an identical bill in the House this year.

But the Senate bill is going to be big this year: It’s being denoted as Senate Bill 3, and in general, the lower the bill number, the more important it is. Last year’s medical marijuana senate bill was No. 1182.

Wait, what happened last year?

Sen. Leach introduced his medical marijuana bill last year along with Sen. Mike Folmer, a socially-conservative Republican from Lebanon County. The unlikely pair got the medical marijuana bill through committee, and brought it to a vote in the Senate in September.

The bill passed easily, 43-7, even though the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time. The bill was referred to the House, but was stalled in committee and wasn’t passed before the end of the legislative session.

Now that the bill is being re-introduced, the leaders say they’ve been able to get support from lawmakers they hadn’t had it from before — mostly through convincing them that bringing in tax funds to the state to help its $2 billion budget deficit is, uh, necessary.

So this Folmer guy is a Republican pot supporter. That’s weird, right? 

Apparently not in Pennsylvania. Twenty out of 27 Republican Senators voted yes to the bill, and our beloved Gov. Tom Corbett kinda did an about-face on the issue, saying he’d maybe sign it if it reached his desk. But it is uncommon for a Republican like Folmer to champion the bill like he has. 

Folmer has told reporters that though he’s from a rural, conservative district (he doesn’t even drink) he was convinced a year and a half ago by two mothers that came into his office. They told him medical marijuana could cure their children’s epileptic seizures, so Folmer began doing his research, speaking to doctors and examining studies. Folmer has since become a full-on medical pot supporter, even promoting it this year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, the annual central PA event that brings together people who enjoy live animals and butter. 

Tom Wolf will make this happen, right? 

I meeeeean… if the legislature can make a bill happen, Tom Wolf says he’ll sign it. The York County Democrat who just entered the guv’s office has made it clear that in addition to being in favor of statewide decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana (unlikely to pass), he’s a surefire proponent of the medical stuff. 

“What is motivating me is people I know with children with diseases that could be treated with medical marijuana. My goal is to create a system where they don’t feel like to go to another state to make their child whole,” Wolf told the Patriot-News in March. 

So how can people be treated with marijuana? 

Here’s how it works: If you get approved by your doctor or a statewide review board, you’ll be granted a card that allows you to buy marijuana from dispensaries. Different strains of marijuana have different amounts of what’s called cannabinoids, or compounds that operate in similar ways as medication. THC, the compound in pot that makes you feel high, is one of those compounds. 

But others have been proven to have similar effects. Charlotte’s Web, a strain of marijuana produced in Colorado that’s gotten tons of press because it can help children with epileptic seizures, has a high CBD content — a different compound than THC.

The cannabinoids can be delivered to a patient’s bloodstream either through being smoked, eaten or applied to the skin. From there, the compounds move to the brain where there are cannabinoid receptors that trigger bodily responses that vary depending on the compound, thus, working just like medication. 

These states have already legalized medical marijuana:

medical marijuana

(via NORML)

I’m a voter, and I want medical marijuana to be legal!

Congrats, your opinions fall in line with eight in 10 Pennsylvanians. A Franklin and Marshall survey conducted about six months ago showed 84 percent of voters strongly favor or somewhat favor allowing adults to use medical marijuana. 

Will the feds just arrest all of Pennsylvania, though? 

Nope. As part of a spending bill passed in December, the federal government forced itself to stop spending money prosecuting the use of medical marijuana in the 23 states that have legalized it. This means that if Pennsylvania passes a bill, the feds won’t come in and arrest people in the state who are legally distributing or using medical marijuana. 

So once this bill passes, we can all just get pot, right?

Sorry, no. The bill that passed the Senate last year stipulated patients had to have one of these diseases to be prescribed medical marijuana: 

  1. Cancer
  2. Epilepsy and seizures
  3. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  4. Cachexia/ Wasting Syndrome
  5. Parkinson’s Disease
  6. Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-concussion Syndrome
  7. Multiple Sclerosis
  8. Spinocerebellara Ataxia (SCA)
  9. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  10. Severe Fibromyalgia

According to language in the bill, a patient with a condition different from the 10 specified in the bill can petition a review board if they feel they need medical cannabis. With a new bill being formulated by Leach and Folmer, those approved conditions could change as advocates are pushing for other diseases like glaucoma and fibromyalgia to be added to the list.

I want this to happen. What do I do?

Click here to find your legislator and their contact information.

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