Is Medical Marijuana Coming to Pennsylvania?

Senate backers said Monday that they hope medical marijuana legislation will get to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk this week and start what could be a two-year process of setting up regulations for growers, dispensaries and physicians.

A Senate committee approved changes to a bill that passed the House last month. Backers said they expect a final Senate vote Tuesday, followed by a final House vote on Wednesday. The Democratic governor supports the bill.

The changes were designed to eliminate potential glitches in how the set up and regulation of the industry is supposed to work, Senate officials said.

"I want to send something to (Wolf's) desk that will work and get set up even sooner," said Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, a chief sponsor of the bill.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a similar version last May.

A House Republican spokesman, however, gave no assurances that the chamber would quickly pass the bill.

"If the Senate chooses to send us an amended bill, then we will have to review those changes and determine what to do," said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader David Reed, R-Indiana.

One of the changes made Monday would allow the Department of Health to grant a waiver to allow a dispensary to set up within 1,000 feet of schools and daycare centers. Without a waiver, dispensaries may have had a difficult or impossible time finding a location in some cities, particularly Philadelphia, Senate officials say.

The Senate bill also removes a provision from the House bill that allowed a grower, process or dispensary to get around the 1,000-foot limit if they were located in a tax-free area called a Keystone Opportunity Zone.

The bill would allow people to buy marijuana from a dispensary after they have been certified by a medical practitioner to have one of 17 enumerated conditions.

Those conditions include cancer, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma and chronic or intractable pain.

Under the proposal, the state would license up to 25 growers and processors, and as many as 50 dispensaries, which could each operate three locations. The first plants will be brought in from out-of-state but, eventually, every plant must be grown in Pennsylvania and tracked from seed to processing.

The state will impose a 5 percent tax on the gross receipts of growers and processors, primarily to underwrite the regulation of the industry. Money also will go for addiction control, law enforcement and aid to medical marijuana patients with financial hardships.

Thirty percent of the fees and taxes collected would go to research into the use of medical marijuana to treat medical conditions.

Twenty-three states, Guam and Washington, D.C., have enacted comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs since California was first in 1996, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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