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House votes to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
  • The bill would let patients with a list of ailments obtain marijuana for therapeutic purposes
  • The final vote in the state House was 149-43
  • The bill will go back to the Senate then to Gov. Tom Wolf, who has said he will sign the bill

HARRISBURG — A bill to let Pennsylvania patients who suffer from a list of ailments obtain marijuana for therapeutic purposes easily passed the state House Wednesday, leaving only final approval by the Senate that overwhelmingly passed a similar bill last year.

Hannah Pallas, 12, left, of McCandless Township, looks on as Jackson "Jax" Salemme, 9, pets a stuffed animal she is holding before Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The House voted 149-43 for legislation that would set standards for growers, dispensaries and physicians. Patients could take the drug in pill, oil or liquid form, but would not be able to obtain marijuana they could smoke.

Supporters framed it as a way to relieve the suffering of sick people.

“All we’re doing is allowing the people of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania who need this to access it legally,” said Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna.

Opponents argued the Legislature should not be approving a drug that is illegal under federal law.

Gov. Wolf meets with medical cannabis advocates

“We’re setting the path to bypass the FDA product approval process. Whether the drugs are good or bad, we’re saying we’re willing to circumvent that process, a process that’s been in place for over 100 years, because it’s what’s needed now,” said Majority Whip Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster.

Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the House changes were being reviewed.

“We understand the urgency behind continuing the progress,” Kocher said.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has urged passage of legalized medical marijuana.

In a news release, Wolf's office said the governor applauded the House for passing the bill and said he looked forward to signing it.

The bill would allow people to purchase marijuana from a dispensary after they have been certified by a medical practitioner to have one of the enumerated conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma and chronic or intractable pain.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 23 states have enacted comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs since California passed the first in 1996.

Even if the bill is signed into law, getting medical marijuana to those who need it would still be years away, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, who voted against the bill.

The drug can't be imported into Pennsylvania, leaving growers and distributors to set up operations in the state. That, Grove said, would take up to three years.

He said he'd prefer the federal government took up the matter instead to leaving states to create laws, which could vary depending on state to state.

“I think it's irresponsible for states to be taking this up,” Grove said.

He also said medical marijuana should undergo more research before it’s released to the public.

He was the lone "no" vote of the York County Republican House delegation. Dillsburg's Mike Regan, York Township's Kristin Phillips-Hill, Hellam Township's Keith Gillespie and Hanover's Kate Klunk all voted for the bill, with Stan Saylor of Windsor Township not voting.

York City's Kevin Schreiber, the lone Democratic representative in York County, voted for the bill.

“The time is long overdue for this to happen,” Schreiber said.  “In a heightened polarized climate, this bill reaching this point today is an exercise in democracy.”

— Staff writers Greg Gross and Sean Cotter contributed to this report.