Pubdate: Sun, 19 Jun 2016
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2016 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


Prohibited From Taking Drug Across State Lines

Parents hoping to treat seriously ill children with medical marijuana 
cheered when Pennsylvania's new law included a "safe harbor" 
provision allowing them to import the medicines right away, rather 
than waiting for the law to take full effect in two years.

Legal experts are now saying there may not be much to celebrate.

That's because the state can't protect residents from federal laws 
against moving pot across state borders.

In Pennsylvania, where it's not yet legal to sell marijuana products, 
the only way parents can get such drugs is to bring them in.

Still, parents are risking criminal charges and prison sentences if 
they assume the safe harbor provision shields them, according to 
marijuana policy experts.

By encouraging people to cross state lines, the Pennsylvania safe 
harbor provision violates U.S. Justice Department guidelines that 
have tacitly allowed state medical marijuana programs to operate, 
said John Hudak, who researches state and federal marijuana policies 
at the Brookings Institution.

"Possession of marijuana is a federal offense;, crossing a state line 
with it is another," Mr. Hudak said. "You are risking jail time."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia said she 
was not aware of any medical marijuana cases that had been prosecuted 
in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Some parents worry that despite state assurances, even local law 
enforcement may not be on board.

Erin McCann of Collegeville, 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, said 
she had considered going to Colorado for marijuana medicines to treat 
her 12-year-old son's seizures. After weighing the potential 
downside, she decided against it.

"Nobody has tried to see how D.A.s will react to the law," she said. 
"They can still charge you, and you could still incur all the legal 
fees. I don't want to be the guinea pig."

In 2013, the U.S. attorney's office issued recommendations to its 
regional divisions on how federal marijuana laws should be enforced 
at a time when more states were legalizing pot. Prosecuting seriously 
ill individuals or their caregivers, it said, was "not an efficient 
use of federal resources."

Pennsylvania's marijuana law, officially called Act 16, allows only 
processed cannabis oils and tinctures. Patients cannot legally grow 
or smoke marijuana.

Steve Auerbach, a regulated substances attorney in Montgomery County, 
said Congress provides some protections to patients and caregivers in 
more than three dozen states, but not in Pennsylvania.

A federal appropriations bill that passed last year reauthorized an 
amendment that prohibits the DEA from spending money to arrest 
patients, caregivers and businesses that comply with their home 
state's medical marijuana laws.

"It doesn't say any state," Mr. Auerbach said. "It enumerates 40 
states and three territories, and Pennsylvania isn't on that list."

That's because the Keystone State didn't approve its new law until 
several months after the federal bill was adopted.

The safe harbor provision - formally known as Section 2106 - was 
designed to speed access to marijuana drugs for minors with any one 
of 17 conditions, including autism, cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

The provision says caregivers must obtain medical marijuana 
"lawfully," but no one in state government can spell out yet how that 
can be done.

The Pennsylvania State Police is working with the Department of 
Health on how to interpret the law, a spokesman said.

Attorneys at the state attorney general's office are continuing to 
review the legislation, a spokesman said.

The Department of Health, which is in charge of implementing the law, 
is still developing guidelines.

Spokeswoman Penny Ickes said the department expects to publish those 
rules this summer. She acknowledged that no state or local law could 
provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law.

Maria Belkadi of Mount Carmel, Northumberland County, would like to 
treat her autistic son's violent outbursts with medical marijuana.

Ms. Belkadi said she would be willing to take her chances with the 
federal government but couldn't trust the state's promises to shield 
her from local authorities.

"Gov. Wolf can say the local D.A. won't prosecute, but I don't want 
to risk it," she said. "I don't want to risk ever having someone take 
my child from me. There's nothing in the world that's worth that."
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