Rep. Stan Saylor
Rep. Stan Saylor

As West Virginia becomes the latest state to ponder legalization of medical marijuana, a couple of bills that would do the same in Pennsylvania aren't likely to gather the support needed to pass.

Two York County Democratic legislators say they might vote for legalization, but there's little support from the rest of the county's House and Senate delegation, which is Republican.

The efforts haven't had enough backing to even pass through their committees.

The two medical marijuana bills have fewer than a dozen co-sponsors between them.

Senate Bill 770 from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware and Montgomery counties, has three co-sponsors; House Bill 1181 from Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, has six co-sponsors. None of the co-sponsors are from York.

Possible yeas: Though they haven't signed onto the legislation, Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-York and Dauphin counties, and Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said they want to take a closer look.

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states, but those states have wildly varying means of dispensing and regulating it.

Teplitz said he would vote to legalize if there were tight controls to make sure the drug, still considered a controlled substance by the United States government, was being used for a legitimate medical purpose under oversight by a doctor.

"I have had parents from my district plead with me to support this as a way to provide relief to their children, and as a parent, I'm sensitive to that," he said. "Children who suffer nonstop seizures have been helped by drops that originate from marijuana. It's important to understand ... we're not talking about little kids smoking pot."

Schreiber said alcohol is probably more dangerous to society than marijuana, which has not shown to be a "huge corrupting influence" in the states where it's legal.

He said he knows an elderly neighbor with a painful disease who has accessed marijuana treatment by traveling to other states, so he would support research to determine whether it would be helpful in Pennsylvania.

But Schreiber said he would be "amazed" if medical marijuana were able to pass in Pennsylvania because of amount of opposition in "the current political climate."

Opposed: While Teplitz said he has seen bipartisan support for medical marijuana, his York County Republican colleagues seem to be of one mind - opposed.

Majority Whip Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said previous House hearings on the topic yielded nobody with a medical condition or a medical degree arguing for marijuana, just those who wanted "fun times."

"Those who testified have been healthy people," Saylor said. "The letters I get are young healthy people. I'm not trying to be a prude, but watching Colorado and other states, it's a free-for-all and there's no way to monitor it."

There are huge farms of marijuana and greenhouses full in California, "and I'm thinking, are that many people sick in California?"

Their argument for medical marijuana is really an argument "for legal marijuana, period," he said.

"I understand where they're coming from. Marijuana has been around for a long time when I was in college and stuff ... and I know people who have used it," he said.

But he said a measure wouldn't get his vote unless there were doctors testifying that it is absolutely necessary.

"Let's not jump into something that sounds like a lot of fun," he said. "We've done a lot of stupid things. but let's hold off on this until we know more about it."

Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, also said the House hearings a few years ago turned up "everybody who wanted to get high," but nobody with a medical condition.

"It was a pretty big push, but they never had the votes to even get it out of committee," he said.

Grove said he's opposed to Cohen's proposal in part because it calls for taxing marijuana, and the bill treats it differently from other prescriptions, which aren't taxed.

There are federal restrictions on marijuana research, so there's no positive research coming out of the United States, he said.

Even in states where it has been legalized, "it's still illegal in the eyes of the federal government," Grove said.

He recently met with constituents whose little boy has a severe type of epilepsy that can be treated by an oil-based cannabis tincture, but he encouraged the couple to work with federal legislators on loosening the restriction on federal research, he said.

If the federal government removes research restrictions and medical marijuana is found to have merit, the drug should be administered by doctors, not by opening "shops like California," he said. There should also be a way to mitigate the side effect of the drug. That is, getting high.

"We would want to make sure people are getting the medical help they need without getting the individuals high," he said.

Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Springettsbury Township, said marijuana is a gateway to other drugs, starting a "slippery slope toward other types of drug abuse," and he was surprised by other states that have legalized its medical use.

While some might argue cannabis could be helpful for people undergoing treatment for cancer, there are synthetic drugs that can be used as alternatives.

"And chemotherapy drugs have come such a long way," he said. "The side effects have been decreased significantly."

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster and York, said he hears very little about medical marijuana from constituents.

"I am opposed and will be opposed to it until a point in time when doctors come and say it's absolutely necessary," he said. "I don't see the kind of support it would take to pass something like this."

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.