PA Senate Passes Limited Cannabis Products Bill: Too Many Patients Left Out

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In a landmark vote on Wednesday, the PA Senate passed a limited medical marijuana bill that would provide some limited cannabis products to certain qualifying patients in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians suffering from epilepsy, seizure disorder, PTSD, MS and cancer patients will have limited access to medicinal cannabis products. Senators Mike Folmer (R – Lebanon) and Daylin Leach (D – Montgomery) worked tirelessly throughout 2014 with parents of severely ill children to build widespread bipartisan support for medicinal cannabis reform.

Pursuant to the Bill as amended, certain Pennsylvania patients would be eligible to obtain a medicinal marijuana card from their treating physician. That patient would then be permitted access to a medical marijuana dispensary that could only sell cannabis products as edibles, tinctures or oils. Patients would not be permitted to smoke cannabis or to vaporize cannabis or oil extracts. The list of qualifying conditions was reduced from 45 to 10. Other last minute amendments increased licensing fees ten fold and specifically reduced the number of available licenses for growers, processors and dispensaries.

Patrick K. Nightingale, Executive Director of Pittsburgh NORML, said “We are very happy that Pennsylvania is moving towards accepting cannabis as a legitimate treatment option for a number of serious medical conditions. For parents with children suffering from severe seizure disorder, for our veterans and our cancer patients we hope that this compromise bill brings them effective treatment options as soon as possible.” But, Nightingale, noted, “the last minute amendments in the Appropriations Committee leave tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians out in the cold including HIV/AIDS patients, patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain, glaucoma and Crohn’s Disease, to name a few.”

Senate Bill 1182 initially covered 45 conditions, but was drastically reduced to a mere 10 in the Appropriations Committee as the bill sponsors sought to fend off efforts to either table the bill entirely or to amend to the bill to make it even less effective. In its present form Pennsylvania would be the only medicinal program in the country not to cover HIV/AIDS. Cannabis has been proven in clinical studies to effectively treat glaucoma, chronic neuropathic pain, Crohn’s and diabetes. “Our politicians played doctor and scientist and arbitrarily eliminated conditions for which there is hard science supporting cannabis as an effective treatment option” Nightingale said.

Eliminating the majority of qualifying conditions was only one of the significant changes to the bill in the Appropriations Committee. Delivery methods were reduced to edibles, oils and tinctures. Vaporization was specifically eliminated. Again, another arbitrary decision with no evidence to support it. Should a cancer patient suffering from severe nausea be forced to ingest an alcohol based tincture? Should a veteran suffering from PTSD be required to ingest an edible and wait an hour for it enter the blood stream? It would seem that politicians are so afraid of the potential for abuse that they have made the delivery methods impractical. Vaporization provides for an immediate onset of medicine without combustion and can be done discreetly without any offending odors. The original version of the bill would have permitted vaporization in public while prohibiting smoking.

Another major last minute change to the bill was the ten-fold increase in licensing fees for those seeking grower’s licenses. The amendment seems to specifically favor larger corporate interested with the $50,000.00 license fee. The bill also arbitrarily restricted the number of licenses available without any consideration for how many Pennsylvania patients need medicinal cannabis.

“The bill in its present form is far from perfect and cannot be considered a true “medicinal marijuana bill” for Pennsylvania. The last minute amendments with the limited qualifying conditions and restrictions on delivery methods make this a “limited cannabis products” bill at best. It reflects a seismic shift in public opinion here in Pennsylvania, where 85% of voters support traditional, whole-plant, smoked medical marijuana. The move by the Senate last week demonstrates that activists and patients continue to have a steep uphill fight to bring a comprehensive medicinal marijuana program to the Commonwealth.

Photo Credit Ray Jones under (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Geograph