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Marijuana gains ground in Pennsylvania Senate

Medical marijuana legalization moved one step forward in Harrisburg on Wednesday, with an affirmative 25-8 vote on a proposal in the House Rules Committee.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 11:12 p.m.

In a round, silver tin presented to a panel of state lawmakers, nine ounces of pungent, federally approved marijuana offered cannabis activist Patrick Nightingale a reminder of how far he'd come, and how far he has to go.

“I've been sitting in a Senate committee, inhaling the scent of fresh marijuana,” Nightingale said. Later, he would call it “the most amazing thing,” an exciting moment for his cause, noting the 300 marijuana cigarettes were legal only for the patient next to him, Irvin Rosenfeld.

Nightingale, an attorney and executive director of Pittsburgh NORML, and Rosenfeld were among a half dozen advocates who testified before the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday about a proposal to establish regulations for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks County, said he plans to bring the bill up for a vote in the next two weeks, the first vote of its kind on the issue. He thinks it will pass.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said a majority of members support access to medical marijuana. Details, though, are under review.

“If the right bill with the right language is put on the floor, you're very likely to see passage in the Senate,” Costa said.

Its chances in the larger House of Representatives are less certain. Many members defer to the federal government on the issue, said Steve Miskin, spokesman for Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.

Marijuana, a Schedule I drug, is illegal by federal standards and largely off-limits to researchers.

“Members believe this is something, state by state, we should not be determining on our own what is medicine,” Miskin said. “That is what the (Food and Drug Administration) does; that is their expertise.”

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who had said he would not sign off on medical marijuana without FDA approval, said recently he now supports researching cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive extract shown to be effective in pediatric seizure treatment. Corbett's proposal to permit cannabidiol research differs from the Senate bill, which would make other forms of the drug available to patients.

The Senate plan would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients with certain illnesses, including seizure disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer.

Patients with an ID card could obtain the drug from licensed dispensaries.

With a veto-proof majority in the Senate, Nightingale said advocates will lobby and educate House leaders. He said he suspects bill sponsors Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, and Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, are not likely to let the issue fail.

“They understand Pennsylvanians are suffering every day while politicians dither,” he said.

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or

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