Philly420: Pa. Gov. makes medical marijuana a top priority

3 x 2 gov tom wolf
Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf .

Gov. Tom Wolf supported medical access to cannabis during his campaign and wants to see a law passed. The General Assembly pledged to send a law to his desk by the end of 2015, but that promise was broken.

"It was a top priority in 2015 for the governor and remains a top priority for 2016. We should not be denying a doctor recommended, scientifically proven treatment," Wolf's spokesman Jeff Sheridan said Friday afternoon.

Sheridan pointed out that within weeks of assuming office Wolf sat down with advocates and patients.

"The governor has always made it very clear that he supports medical marijuana," said Sheridan.

The Pa. Senate passed a very limited bill in May. The bill, SB3, It had a short list of qualifying conditions, would not allow smoking and made sure that whole plant material would not be distributed. 

After a series of delays in the House the bill was weighed down by an ever-growing series of amendments.

Blogger Sean Kitchen laid out the 197 amendments the House is considering to add to SB3 in a post earlier this week. 

Most of the changes are being proposed by opponents of the measure. Many are designed to make the bill completely ineffective.

Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga) is chairman of the House Health Committee. He spent most of 2015 refusing to allow the medical marijuana bill to be heard. Baker used the same tactic to kill medical marijuana bills since 2009. Under significant public pressure Baker eventually passed the bill off to the House Rules Committee who swiftly moved the measure to the House floor.

Since then, several of the most extensive amendments have been submitted by Baker.

In one set, Baker attempts to make the bill a "research only" law that would only allow Pennsylvania residents access to federally approved clinical trials with cannabis-based medications. 

Baker also submitted language that would only allow "FDA approved" medical marijuana to be utilized in Pennsylvania, an impossibility in the real world. ??? Baker also seeks to remove HIV/AIDS as a qualifying condition.

Rep. Baker isn't the only one trying to kill the bill. 

Sean Kitchen's digging on the amendments showcases a growing divide on the issue with the Pennsylvania GOP.

Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset) also wants to turn the program into a research-only law. 

Rep. Becky Corbin (R-Brandywine) wants to replace all occurrences of "cannabis" with "CBD only." 

Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Lehighton) seeks to starve the program though finances by taking all collected fees out of the program management and placing the money in the General Fund to be allocated towards alcohol and drug prevention programs. Heffley also wants every facility to post a $10 million bond with the state, a ridiculous hurdle. 

Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson) went even further by submitting language that any nurse or doctor wishing to recommend cannabis maintain a $2 million cash reserve as "security" against any malpractice lawsuit. But realistically, no doctor or nurse would be able to set aside $2 million in cash just to participate in a medical marijuana program.

We previously covered Rep. Ron Marsico's extensive re-write of the bill. Among Marsico's new restrictions were a 10 percent cap on THC content, limiting the number of dispensaries and even a sunset provision that would see major sections of the bill expire within two years." 

Meanwhile other Republicans were pushing for progress. 

House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) posted the bill to the House floor again and again in the final weeks of 2015. But House Speaker Mike Turzai refused to bring it for a vote.

Rep. Mike Regan (R-York), a former U.S. Marshall who is now running for state Senate, decried the restrictions on smoking. 

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), the original sponsor of SB3, keeps lobbying his House colleagues for support. 

It should be noted that Democrats, across the board, support access to medical cannabis and have since 2009. 

A Gallup poll last fall showed an astounding 90 percent of Pa voters support the issue. 

The question now is this: If the House waters down SB3 so heavily will they send a bill to Gov. Wolf that is actually worth anything at all to patients?

A  limited medical cannabis products law was supposed to be implemented on Thursday across New York State. 

But fewer than half of the 20 licensed New York state dispensaries opened their doors.  

Only a handful of New York patients were able to register and actually gain access. There are only about 150 doctors who have signed up to recommend cannabis therapy.  

The legislation in the Empire State prohibits smoking marijuana or dispensing whole plant material to patients.

Instead, the facilities are only allowed to sell oils and tinctures. These can be eaten, mixed into food or put into vaporization devices like an e-cigarette. 

These types of overly restrictive rules and regulations will likely keep many qualifying patients in the underground marijuana market. 

Pennsylvania's SB3 is strikingly similar. 

Sheridan said that Wolf hadn't seen the proposed House amendments but that the governor would review any bill that reaches his desk "to make sure it achieves his goals."

Sheridan also noted that Gov. Wolf "certainly applauds what Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have done" with decriminalization of marijuana possession. 

He noted that as a CEO, Wolf had implemented a second-chance policy at his company so those convicted of non-violent crimes, including marijuana possession, don't lose their job. 

Statewide decriminalization in Pennsylvania isn't on the radar yet. 

"Our main purpose right now is medical marijuana," said Sheridan. 

Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and on the board of PhillyNorml. Contact him at chris@freedomisgreen.com.

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