Share This Page

Pa. House approves medical marijuana bill, now goes to Senate for OK

| Wednesday, March 16, 2016, 6:57 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A bill to let Pennsylvania patients who suffer from a list of ailments obtain marijuana for therapeutic purposes easily passed the state House on Wednesday, leaving only approval by the Senate, which overwhelmingly passed a similar bill last year.

The House voted 149-43 for legislation that would set standards for growers, dispensaries and physicians. Patients could take the drug in pill, oil or liquid form, but would not be able to obtain marijuana they could smoke.

Supporters said it would help relieve the suffering of sick people.

“Today we have the opportunity of offering hope to the parents of these children, to the patients, offering the hope of letting them, along with their doctors, decide how to best treat the conditions they're dealing with on a daily basis,” said Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks.

Opponents argued the Legislature should not be approving a drug that is illegal under federal law.

“We're setting the path to bypass the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) product approval process, whether the drugs are good or bad. We're saying we're willing to circumvent that process, a process that's been in place for over 100 years, because it's what's needed now,” said Majority Whip Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster.

The bill would allow people to buy marijuana from a dispensary after they have been certified by a medical practitioner to have one of the 17 enumerated conditions. Those conditions include cancer, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma and chronic or intractable pain. Under the proposal, the state would license up to 25 growers and processors, and as many as 50 dispensaries, which could each operate three locations.

Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, drew a standing ovation after speaking of his own battle with cancer and the chance that his daughters may inherit the disease.

“I live with cancer every day. I'm told there's a very high likelihood I'll have it again,” Pyle said, adding: “Please let my kids have access to this.”

Advocates celebrated in the Capitol after several years of going from door to door seeking support among lawmakers. Many are the parents of children who have lost their ability to function intellectually at their age level because of the severe seizures they suffer daily.

One parent, Dana Ulrich, said she is convinced that legal access to the drug would help her 8-year-old daughter Lorelei, who has numerous seizures every day.

“I absolutely believe that it will help her and so does her doctor,” she said.

Noting that medical groups have come out against the bill, saying it needs more research, Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, called the vote unprecedented.

“I cannot remember when was the last time this august body voted on a bill that was in direct violation of federal law,” Baker said.

Marijuana is widely available on the black market, noted Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna.

“All we're doing is allowing the people of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania who need this to access it legally,” Flynn said.

Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, a key sponsor, said the Senate would take it up and get it to the governor as soon as possible.

Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the House changes were being reviewed.

“We understand the urgency behind continuing the progress,” Kocher said.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has urged passage of legalized medical marijuana, released a statement that applauded the House vote and predicted the bill would provide “essential help” to patients.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 23 states, Guam and Washington, D.C., have enacted comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs since California was first in 1996.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.