Kumar Appaiah

Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Law is Stalled, But Not Dead

“We need to get this done,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf told a crowd of supporters at the Pennsylvania State Capitol medical marijuana rally held on February 8th, 2016.

The rally was to show support for Senate Bill 3, the bill to allow Pennsylvanians suffering from certain conditions to use medical marijuana to alleviate their pain. The bill was passed in the state Senate, but stalled when it reached the House of Representatives. In the House, more than 200 amendments to the bill were proposed by representatives and it still has not been called to a vote. At the support rally, Governor Wolf placed the blame for the delay on Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, answering “why don’t you go ask him?” and gesturing toward Turzai’s office when a member of the crowd asked why the bill had not been passed yet.

Multiple polls have shown that the majority of Pennsylvania residents are in favor of a state law allowing the use of medical marijuana. The most conservative measure of public opinion, found through a poll conducted by Robert Morris University, found that 67.5% of Pennsylvania residents polled were in support of such a measure. Other polls, including ones conducted by Quinnipiac University and the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, found that 69% to 88% of Pennsylvania voters were supporters of medical cannabis. This is in line with national polls, which have found that approximately 80% of American adults are in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical use.

So why hasn’t the bill been passed already?

Because opponents in the House are doing all that they can to keep it from passing. Initially, Turzai assigned the bill to the House Health Committee, which is chaired by Representative Matt Baker, who stated that we do not have sufficient evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits, citing the white paper “Is Marijuana Medicine?,” released by the Pennsylvania Medical Society. He further argued that it would be unwise to approve its use while the FDA has not officially done so.

A House member then filed a discharge petition that brought the bill to the House Rules Committee, where a new version was drafted by a bipartisan group of representatives. Then came the amendments and budget issues.

“The budget blew everything up. There was no oxygen to discuss anything mildly controversial. That’ll change,” Representative Peter Schweyer told Bill White of The Morning Call in an interview. “There is a segment of the Republican caucus who will do everything to kill it, including Chairman Baker. But I also know a majority of House members support this, including a number of Republicans.”

Progressive marijuana reform can’t come soon enough for many Pennsylvanians, which was noted by Schweyer in the interview and Wolf at the rally. Facing the mock-up doctor’s office full of supporters dubbed the “Still Waiting” room at the state Capitol, Wolf did not mince words about his feelings on the issue.

“Get it to my desk, and I’m going to sign it,” he said.

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