Pubdate: Mon, 14 Mar 2016
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2016 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Karen Langley


HARRISBURG - After months on the back burner, legislation to permit 
the medical use of marijuana in Pennsylvania is scheduled for a House 
vote this week.

The Senate approved medical marijuana bills in September 2014 and 
again in May 2015, and Gov. Tom Wolf supports allowing the treatment. 
But the legislation, which would establish a highly regulated 
industry and which faced opposition from some House Republican 
leaders, did not fly through the House. The chamber held hearings and 
convened a task force to study the issue.

Now, the House is scheduled to consider amendments to the bill today 
and then take a final vote Tuesday or possibly Wednesday, said House 
Republican spokesman Steve Miskin. A bill amended by the House would 
have to return to the Senate for its approval.

More than 200 amendments have been filed to the Senate bill, Mr. 
Miskin said, with a comprehensive amendment from Rep. Ron Masico, 
R-Dauphin and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, potentially 
having support from Republicans and Democrats.

The proposal would establish a program to make marijuana available to 
patients who have one of a list of conditions, including cancer, 
epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV and AIDS, multiple 
sclerosis and other illnesses. Patients would need certification from 
a doctor to obtain marijuana.

Patients could receive marijuana in a pill, oil or through 
vaporization, among other forms. Smoking would not be allowed, and 
dispensaries would not be permitted to sell edibles containing 
marijuana, though patients could incorporate marijuana into food. It 
would establish rules for growers and dispensaries, as well as an 
advisory board to oversee the state's handling of medical marijuana.

Growers and processors would be required to pay a tax of 5 percent of 
receipts of their sales of medical marijuana to dispensaries. 
Forty-five percent of the money would be available to pay for 
operating the medical marijuana system; 30 percent to pay for 
research about medical marijuana; 10 percent for drug abuse 
prevention, counseling and treatment; 10 percent for local police 
departments; and 5 percent for the state police to conduct background checks.

Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democrats, said he expects the House 
will pass a medical marijuana bill.

"It's an idea whose time has come," he said.

Advocates for medical marijuana have been a presence at the state 
Capitol as the legislation has wound its way through the General 
Assembly. Julie Michaels, a resident of Connellsville in Fayette 
County, estimated she has made 15 to 20 trips to Harrisburg to 
advocate for medical marijuana. Ms. Michaels believes the treatment 
might help her daughter Sydney, 6, who has Dravet syndrome, an 
intractable form of epilepsy. She said marijuana has helped children 
with Sydney's symptoms have fewer seizures.

"I'd just love the chance to try," Ms. Michaels said.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who in May 2015 hosted supporters of medical marijuana 
at the official Harrisburg governor's residence, on Friday urged the 
House and Senate to pass a bill.

"I support the legalization of medical marijuana so we can finally 
provide much needed relief to families and children," Mr. Wolf said 
in a statement. "It is time to legalize medical marijuana because we 
should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people 
suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy."

The National Conference of State Legislatures says that 23 states, as 
well as the District of Columbia and Guam, allow for comprehensive 
public medical marijuana programs, while 17 states allow some use of 
marijuana products that are low in THC, the main psychoactive compound.
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