Pubdate: Tue, 12 Apr 2016
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2016 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Angela Couloumbis, Harrisburg Bureau


HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania lawmakers moved Monday to put final touches 
on a bill to legalize medical marijuana, reviving a longdebated 
measure that had stalled near the finish line last month.

The Senate agreed to add a few technical changes to the 
House-approved bill. Republican leaders who control both chambers say 
that barring last-minute objections, the legislation could land on 
Gov. Wolf's desk for a signature this week.

"I believe everyone is acting in good faith, but I will be holding my 
breath until the final vote is taken," said Sen. Daylin Leach (D., 
Montgomery), who, with Republican Sen. Mike Folmer of Lebanon County, 
has championed the bill.

If the measure becomes law, Pennsylvania would join New Jersey and 23 
other states that have approved medical marijuana. It would allow 
people suffering from cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, 
intractable seizures, and other conditions to obtain marijuana in 
pill, oil, or ointment form at dispensaries statewide.

After years of debate and lobbying by advocates - many of them 
families with children who are chronically ill - the House last month 
approved the measure. But the bill it passed and returned to the 
Senate was a heavily revised version of the one that had cleared the 
upper house, and advocates became concerned that the differences 
between the two could slow or muddle the process of getting the drug 
into the hands of patients.

Others feared that if the Senate continued to tinker - passing 
changes that stirred another House debate and vote - it would give 
opponents of the bill another shot at torpedoing it.

Under the legislation, dispensaries, as well as those who grow and 
process medical cannabis, will have to be licensed by the state. 
Doctors who prescribe it as a treatment will have to register as 
practitioners, and patients who want to use it will be given ID cards 
that would be renewed annually.

The Department of Health would establish an advisory board and 
oversee the system, which could take more than a year to get up and running.

Critics have argued that marijuana is not approved for medicinal 
purposes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and that 
legalizing it for medicinal purposes would open the door to more 
recreational use.

But several senators said Monday that the proposed changes were 
highly technical and would not affect the bill's substance.

Senators also have a backup plan: If it appears by Tuesday that their 
changes will not pass the House, they signaled that they could revert 
to the original House bill, approve that, and send it on to Wolf.

"We have to see what they send us," House Republican spokesman Steve 
Miskin said. "Our goal is to get a bill to the governor's desk."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom