Urgent Call To Action: Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Bill SB3

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On April 21st, the PA Senate State Government committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 3, a bill originally intended to legalize medical cannabis in PA. SB3 will go to the Senate Appropriations committee for a vote likely on May 4th, and could get a vote on the Senate floor soon after. Currently, the Senate is not in session so all Senators should be in their District office.

This is a bittersweet moment because at the committee vote last week, an amendment was also passed. For months how this amendment was supposed to fix the problems with SB3 – which was based on the flawed SB1182 that passed the Senate last year. Unfortunately, the amendments failed to live up to expectations, and in many cases actually further degraded the quality of any potential medical cannabis program. It has become so unreasonable that the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, which once enthusiastically testified in favor of it, has publicly pulled its support for SB3.

The other night, members of PhillyNORML met with PA Senator Mike Folmer and discussed ways to fix the bill, because even the sponsors are not happy with the way things are going. The Senate is expected to move on it relatively quickly. Our goal is to turn this bill into one that will create a strong and workable program before it makes its way to the House. To that end, more amendments are being planned which will be introduced at some undetermined point before the final Senate floor vote.

Please call your Senator during business hours this week! Be persistent in contacting our elected officials and pushing a number of points if we want these amendments to succeed. We must work on ensuring that the Senate Republican Leadership (Sen. Jake Corman and Sen. Joe Scarnati) get on board with pushing these positive and necessary changes. Use the talking points below to help make your case.

#1 – We need vaporization added as an allowed form of ingestion. Vaporization allows the medicine to be safely consumed by a patient without any toxic by-products that might be produced by smoking. It enables patients to obtain relief faster and in a format that can be easily measured and controlled. Most importantly, it allows them to titrate their dosage, something other methods do not. Titration means patients can take their medicine until they feel the medical effect they require without using too much – they use the right amount of cannabis in a consistent manner. Many conditions covered by the bill require a rapid delivery method like vaporization, including epilepsy. When a person becomes unresponsive during a seizure, it’s easier to get them to inhale vaporized cannabinoids.

#2 – SB3 as written will not allow any new conditions to be considered until July 2017, and many patients don’t have that kind of time to wait. Legislators should not be playing doctor. Thirteen conditions are presently covered by the bill, but it is not enough. It needs to at least cover Crohn’s disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and comprehensively cover pain management for the myriad diseases which result in chronic pain in addition to the ones that it already includes. The very best path is to allow doctors to decide with their patients if a condition warrants medical marijuana; however, if the bill must have a list of allowed conditions then it needs to be comprehensive enough to cover all the conditions which have shown to be treatable with cannabis.

#3 – SB3 should include a medical necessity defense. Given that patients may not receive medical cannabis ID cards from the Commonwealth until sometime in 2017, they continue to risk arrest, prosecution, jail time, and potentially losing their kids to child services. We need to ensure that a patient with a legitimate medical condition can use that as a defense if they ever see the inside of a court room, if they are acting within the bounds that SB3 sets forth.

#4 – Reiterate that marijuana is the safest therapeutic substance known to mankind, that there are thousands of scientific studies showing its efficacy and safety, and that over 85% of Pennsylvanians consistently poll in favor of compassionate and inclusive medical cannabis laws.

When you contact your Senator and State Representative, you might get a staff member – that’s fine. Tell them you are a constituent calling to ask the senator/representative to support further amendments to fix Senate Bill 3, the compassionate use of medical cannabis act. Tell them that you’d like the first three points above to be included in the bill and then for them to vote “Yes” on its final passage. Be respectful and thank them for listening.

This is a turning point for PA! We still have a chance to pass useful legislation if we act now. In addition to directly calling your State Senator, you can help by writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper, calling your local morning radio show and educate your friends and other fellow listeners, or going bringing a group of people to lobby the Legislature in Harrisburg. Lets mobilize and make this happen. Remember, if they say they don’t support medical cannabis legalization, they are wrong, and need to be told why. They work for us.

If you take action, send us an email and let us know how it went! The more information we have, the more likely we are to have positive impact. You can email your report to phillynorml@gmail.com. We will be following up as more developments arise. Stay tuned!