Pubdate: Fri, 25 Mar 2016
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2016 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Maria Panaritis


Senate Republicans say the House passed a bill so altered that it 
might need reworking, further delaying its trip to Wolf's desk.

A week after the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took a 
long-awaited vote to legalize medical marijuana, key backers are 
worried that the law's implementation could be slowed or even 
derailed by last-minute changes to the measure.

Senate Republicans say that the 154-page legislation passed by the 
House was a gutted and heavily revised version of their original 
69-page bill, and that some of the changes could be so problematic 
that they could unnecessarily delay getting medical marijuana into 
patients' hands.

Sen. Mike Folmer, the Lebanon County Republican who sponsored the 
initial legislation and has been among its biggest champions, is now 
considering pressing for changes and another vote by both chambers 
instead of signing off on the House bill and sending it to Gov. Wolf.

"There have been lots of discussions - but there's been no decision," 
Folmer's chief of staff, Fred Sembach, said Thursday.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), the bill's cosponsor, said trying 
to again revise it could spell disaster.

"If we send it back to the House, we may never see it again," said 
Leach, who said he prefers that the Senate accept the House bill and 
iron out any flaws through the courts and the regulatory process.

Supporters had hoped last week's House vote marked their final 
hurdle. Gov. Wolf even congratulated advocates - many of them parents 
of children with chronic illnesses - who for years had lobbied 
legislators to make Pennsylvania the 24th state allowing patients to 
access medical marijuana.

The law would establish a licensing, dispensary, and regulatory 
system, and make the drug available in pill, oil, or ointment form to 
patients who suffer from cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, 
seizures, and other conditions.

Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, said the governor "was ready to sign 
the House bill and had hoped it would pass quickly through the Senate."

But when the Senate reconvened this week and the bill did not come up 
for a vote, concern sprouted.

Senate staff and lawyers have flagged a number of "flaws," such as 
reference numbers between the two bills not lining up and language 
that would make applications of the law difficult if not impossible 
in some ways.

For instance, Leach said, the House bill would require that no 
marijuana dispensary operate within 1,000 feet of a school in 
Philadelphia. That would make it difficult to open one in Center City, he said.

Another issue, flagged by Folmer's staff, is imprecise language about 
the regulation of marijuana growers, processors, and dispensers. The 
Senate bill referred to "license" - a word struck by the House in 
favor of "registration," Sembach said.

Even technical flaws could mean roadblocks to getting the system up 
and running properly for the patients who need it, Sembach said.

"This would be like giving a child a toy at Christmas but then not 
giving a battery to make it work," he said. "It's too important to 
enact a bill into law that may not work."

After an advocate this week posted questions to him on Twitter, Sen. 
Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) announced that lawmakers 
would vote on the bill the week of April 4. "Technical issues w/ the 
bill being reviewed," Corman tweeted.

His spokeswoman, Jennifer Kocher, said Thursday that there was "no 
poison pill in the bill" but that Corman would follow Folmer's lead 
on how to proceed. "We are not saying this is dead," Kocher said.

One advocate, Lolly Bentch Myers, said she met daily with lawmakers 
this week to discuss the next steps.

"We're getting a lot of conflicting information about whether the 
Senate will concur or not," said Myers, a Dauphin County mother who 
founded Campaign for Compassion because her 8-year-old daughter, 
Anna, suffers from debilitating seizures. "There's so much tension 
right now and a lot of arguing back and forth."

For Leach, the uncertainty is a concern. For six years, he has sought 
such legislation, only to be rebuffed time and again. It would be 
wrong, he said, to risk losing an otherwise "very good bill" by 
exposing it to the caprice of the House.

"Perfection is the white whale of government," Leach said. "You're 
always chasing it; you're never catching it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom