For patients in Pennsylvania who have waited so long for relief, things are looking up. Last week we reported on the introduction of SB 1003, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the Keystone State and set up a statewide system of “Compassion Centers.”
Earlier today I got a chance to speak with Derek Rosenzweig of PhillyNORML. Folks there are exciting about medical marijuana’s prospects in PA. “Patients and advocates around the state have been eagerly awaiting it and are eager to get the ball rolling,” Derek said. “Our sponsors are pushing our bill hard and making great comments about it. Senator Larry Farnese had a great Q&A with Philadelphia Weekly where he makes some great comments about why it needs to pass. We hope to have a hearing scheduled in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee as soon as humanely possible. We’re actively asking our members to call in and request a hearing, and working directly with PA elected officials to garner more support and more co-sponsorships.”
I asked Derek if the bill itself had any input from NORML. ” PhillyNORML and Pittsburgh NORML through our PA4MMJ campaign had some input with the bill,” he said. “Both PA Rep. Mark Cohen and Sen. Daylin Leach, our prime sponsors, brought us in on helping draft the language. We used last session’s HB1393/SB1350 as a base because it was a great bill to begin with, it just needed some tweaking. We changed the name to the Governor Raymond Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act as recommended by Rep. Cohen. We named it after Gov. Shafer to remind everyone that a Presidential committee chaired by a former Republican Governor from Pennsylvania recommended that marijuana use should be decriminalized and medical use assessed by physicians, not law enforcement; that specifically, marijuana is in a different class than other drugs such as heroin and cocaine, and that it should be treated differently. Other than that we all decided for the time being to leave the bill as it was last session.”
And there is much more progress to be made in PA according to Derek, including a possible Schedule change for cannabis. “A number of amendments were introduced that did not make it into the final language but are slated to be brought up in negotiations during committee hearings. These include a switch from a 6 plant/1 oz possession limit for patients and caregivers to a more realistic canopy-area based system. Such a system would give patients and caregivers much more leeway in how they want to set up their garden without restricting the number of plants, and law enforcement a much easier way to determine if a medical garden is within legal limits without having to know details of various grow methods. Another possible amendment would re-schedule marijuana in PA from Schedule I to Schedule III, however such a change would affect all use and sale penalties and as such needs to be well thought out before we pursue that route. Only 2 other states have re-scheduled cannabis so far and neither was through the legislature.”
PA residents should contact their local representatives and let them know they support SB 1003, and you should also think about joining your closest NORML chapter. They are on the front lines in PA, and making positive steps toward keeping cannabis users out of jail.