HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania is set to become the latest state to legalize medical marijuana as the Legislature sent a bill to the governor on Wednesday, after parents of children suffering from debilitating seizures circulated the Capitol urging lawmakers to act.
The House voted, 149-46, capping several years of door-to-door lobbying by parents and more than a year-and-a-half since the state Senate first approved a medical marijuana bill in 2014. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has indicated he will sign it on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, lawmakers promised to legalize medical marijuana by the summer, before voters get a chance to decide a ballot question in the fall election.
Pennsylvania would become the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The issue has been driven by parents who believe a marijuana oil extract can help relieve the daily seizures that have left their children in wheelchairs or functioning far below their grade level. Some say they worried that the next seizure will kill their child.
Christine Brann, of Hummelstown in suburban Harrisburg, said that every day without a medical marijuana law in Pennsylvania is a risk for people who believe their suffering child may not survive another day.
"Every day we roll the dice on our child's or our loved one's life," said Brann, whose 5-year-old son, Garrett, is diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.
The bill sets standards for tracking plants, certifying physicians and licensing growers, dispensaries and physicians. Patients could take marijuana in pill, oil, vapor or liquid form but would not be able to legally obtain marijuana to smoke or to grow their own.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society opposed the bill and one opponent, Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, warned that the bill violates federal drug laws and that the state would see a drastic impact on addiction and abuse.
"There's serious consequences associated with this monumental piece of legislation," Baker told colleagues during floor speech before the vote.
In Ohio on Wednesday, lawmakers set an aggressive schedule for legislation that would allow licensed doctors to prescribe edibles, patches, plant material and oils. State Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican who chaired a medical marijuana task force, said it will prohibit home growing — which he says is too hard to control.
Lawmakers said that polling during a more sweeping ballot campaign that failed last year made clear to the Republican-controlled state Legislature that the issue wasn't going away.
Ian James, who led last year's marijuana legalization effort, called the House proposal historic.
"We've never had in the state's history a time when the Statehouse has so thoroughly vetted medical marijuana, considered its positives, its negatives and brought so many people together," he said.
In Pennsylvania, the legislation's list of 17 qualifying diagnosed conditions include cancer, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and glaucoma.
Physicians must be registered by the state to certify that a patient has an eligible condition and a patient must get a Department of Health-issued ID card.
The legislation's drafters say they expect it would be two years before regulations are written and retailers are ready to sell to patients. However, a safe harbor provision in the bill would allow parents to avoid the wait by legally buying medical marijuana from another state for their child.
Cara Salemme, whose 9-year-old son Jackson has suffered daily seizures for the past four years, said parents will immediately seek help for their children, if they haven't already.
"There are many people in Pennsylvania who aren't waiting, they're healing," said Salemme, of Spring Grove, near York. "We'll definitely do what we need to do."
Diana Briggs, of Export, near Pittsburgh, said she hopes to help her 15-year-old son, Ryan, who suffered a brain injury at birth and has suffered from daily seizures since that have left him in a wheelchair, unable to talk or walk. Nothing has worked, including pharmaceuticals, stem cell therapy, diet or electrical nerve stimulation therapy, Briggs said.
Ryan's doctors believe medical marijuana could help him, she said.
"If it can alleviate these seizures, I can't imagine what he could accomplish," Briggs said.
Associated Press reporter Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.
Highlights of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana legislation
Pennsylvania is poised to become the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive and public medical marijuana program after a vote Wednesday in the state House of Representatives. The bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports it. Here are major elements of the 80-page bill:
Patients must receive a certification from a physician registered with the Department of Health and have a valid identification card issued by the department that includes their name, address and date of birth. A patient must be diagnosed with one of the following 17 conditions: cancer; HIV; AIDS; ALS; Parkinson's disease; multiple sclerosis; damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; epilepsy: inflammatory bowel disease; neuropathies; Huntington's disease; Crohn's disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; intractable seizures; glaucoma; sickle cell anemia; autism; neuropathic pain; or severe chronic or intractable pain that is untreatable.
Medical marijuana may only be dispensed as a pill, oil, tincture or liquid; in a topical form, such as a gel, cream or ointment; or in a form medically appropriate for vaporization or nebulization. Patients wouldn't be able to legally obtain marijuana in a form they could smoke.
GROWING AND SELLING
The state would license up to 25 growers and processors, and as many as 50 dispensaries, which could each operate three locations. Dispensaries and growers could not be located within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center, although the Department of Health would be able to waive that requirement on a case-by-case basis. Growers, processors and dispensaries would have to meet local zoning laws. Patients would not be allowed to legally grow their own marijuana.
A parent or guardian may lawfully obtain medical marijuana from another state or country to be administered to a minor.
The Department of Health would have to write regulations and monitor the growth, transportation, possession, processing, testing and sale of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. That includes maintaining a database of all patients approved to use it and all caregivers approved to assist in its use. It will develop training courses for medical professionals; approve safety information that dispensaries must provide to patients; create an identification card system for patients and caregivers; and ensure the advertising and marketing of medical marijuana is consistent with federal regulations governing prescription drugs. Caregivers and owners and employees of growers, processors and dispensaries must submit fingerprints for a criminal record background check before getting a permit or identification card.
A grower, processor or dispensary must implement an electronic inventory tracking system that is connected to a Department of Health database that electronically tracks all medical marijuana on a daily basis. The system is supposed to track the medical marijuana from seed through the sale to a dispensary and a patient or caregiver, including information from the identification card presented by the patient or caregiver. It also must include daily sales, prices paid and systems to track the recall of defective medical marijuana and plant waste.
The bill imposes a 5 percent tax on the gross receipts that a grower/processor gets from the sale of medical marijuana to another grower or processor or a dispensary. The sales are exempt from the state sales tax.
The Medical Marijuana Program Fund collects taxes and fees raised from the law. Of the money, 40 percent goes to the Department of Health for its operations and outreach; 30 percent for medical treatment research; 15 percent goes to help medical marijuana patients and caregivers with the costs of background checks, identity cards or purchasing the product; 10 percent to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs for drug abuse prevention, counseling and treatment; and 5 percent for local law enforcement grants.
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