HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania has become the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law Sunday afternoon surrounded by a jubilant crowd of supporters at the Capitol building in Harrisburg.
"Marijuana is medicine and it's coming to Pennsylvania," said Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach, the bill's co-sponsor.
The bill's drafters say it could take two years to write regulations and get retailers opened, but a provision allows parents to legally administer medical marijuana to their children before the bill takes effect in a month.
The bill sets standards for tracking plants, certifying physicians and licensing growers, dispensaries and physicians. Patients could take marijuana in pill, oil, vapor, ointment or liquid form, but would not be able to legally obtain marijuana to smoke or grow.
Sen. Mike Vereb, a Republican, called on lawmakers to take on what he called "the number-one killer in Pennsylvania" — opioid abuse.
"Opioid abuse has no party, has no color, has no religion," Vereb said. "Let's face it, that's the killer. What we're doing today is the healer."
Among those celebrating the victory was parent Dana Ulrich, who has fought for legal access to the drug in the belief that it would help her 8-year-old daughter Lorelei, who has numerous seizures every day.
"I never doubted for one second that this day would come," she told the crowd, thanking patient advocates and caregivers as well as lawmakers and the governor. "When you get a group of truly dedicated people together, that have the same goal and the same mind and the same hearts, you can achieve anything."
Wolf called it "a great, great day for Pennsylvania, but more important, a great day for Pennsylvanians." He said he and lawmakers were responding not to a special interest group or to campaign contributors, but to "a real human need."
"When you have people who represent a cause as eloquently and in as heartfelt a way as the advocates for this have done, it shows that we can actually get something done that means something," Wolf said.
Gov. Tom Wolf officially signed the bill into action on Sunday afternoon.
"This legislation provides long overdue medical relief to patients and families who need this treatment," Wolf said.
The term “medical marijuana” refers to using the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health will begin the process of implementing the state’s Medical Marijuana Program.
The implementation of the program is expected to take between 18 and 24 months and, when completed, will offer medical marijuana to patients who are under a physician’s care for the treatment of a serious medical condition.
Patients with serious medical conditions will be able to access medical marijuana with a physician’s certification at designated state dispensaries.
“Since taking office, I have met with patients and families, held roundtables, and urged action on this legislation and it is encouraging that the hard work of these families has resulted in truly historic legislation,” Wolf said.
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