On Sunday April 17, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The signing of the bill makes Pennsylvania the 24th state to permit medical marijuana, legalizing it through legislative means as opposed to the more common voter referendum.
The bill passed both the Republican controlled State House of Representatives and Senate before being approved by the Democratic governor, an unusual act of bipartisanship, as the Commonwealth has struggled for nearly a year to pass a budget that both sides find appropriate.
The bill legalizes the prescription use of the drug in the form of pills, oil, topical treatment, and in certain special cases as an inhalable vapor form. Use of the drug in a smokable form will still remain illegal, as will any use of the drug among individuals without a valid prescription. Those who can be prescribed the drug will be limited to one of 17 medical conditions including HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, MS, Huntington’s disease, glaucoma, ALS, and Crohn’s disease among others.
The Commonwealth plans to license 25 growers and processors to the prescriptions. Patients will remain forbidden to grow their own plants legally. The bill plans to allow 50 dispensaries to open up around the state; however, that is not likely to happen for about 18 months while the infrastructure and additional Department of Health regulations behind the bill are being developed including educating physicians on the process.
Proponents of the bill say that the drug will provide much needed relief to pain and reduce the effects of health problems that patients with certain medical conditions suffer through. Opponents of the motion, including the Pennsylvania Medical Society, state that there is a lack of medical literature on the drug and its effectiveness and fear that medicinal legalization of the drug could trickle-down and lead to an increase in recreational use of the substance.
Cannabis is currently illegal at the federal level for all uses and is classified as a controlled substance, which can lead to fines and/or prison time if caught possessing or transporting. However, both medicinal and recreational use of the substance is legal at the state level in four states and the District of Columbia and enforcement of laws regarding the drug vary from state to state.