(Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill clears Senate; future in House murky

HARRISBURG, Pa. — State senators voted Tuesday for a second time to send legislation to legalize medical marijuana to the House of Representatives, where the GOP majority has held hearings but otherwise given no certain signs of support.

The 40-7 vote came seven months after senators passed an earlier bill that died in the House. Every Democrat voted yes, as did 21 of 28 Republicans, including Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who took office in January, supports the legalization of medical marijuana. However, leaders of the House Republican majority are not saying whether they support the Senate’s approach or if they will advance their own legislation.

“We have not looked at it, but we will once it gets here,” said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.

Miskin also said many House Republicans believe the federal government should take the lead on the matter, considering that it still classifies marijuana as a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, shot back that the government should not stand in the way of a patient and his or her medicine.

“I think this is a state’s rights issue and I think this is a right of Pennsylvania to decide what they want to do and how we want to take care of our patients and how we want to allow our sick people to take control of their health,” Folmer said.

He said he believes the necessary support exists in the House to pass a medical marijuana bill, thanks to the same people who propelled the Senate’s vote: parents who believe a marijuana oil extract can help their seizure-wracked children.

According to the marijuana advocacy group NORML, 36 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized some form of medical marijuana. Under the legislation that passed Tuesday, a state board would be created to license growers, dispensers and processors.

Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, a former pediatric nurse who voted against the bill, said she suspects that marijuana cannot do all the things that people want it to do. The American Medical Association and the Pennsylvania Medical Society oppose the bill, and the American Epilepsy Society found that it did not significantly reduce seizures, she said.

“Now, I know that’s not what people want to hear, but those are the facts as I know it,” Vance said.

She also said that federal law makes it illegal for doctors and nurses to prescribe marijuana because it is a Schedule 1 drug, that banks would not take money from the sale of marijuana and that pharmacists would be replaced by yet-to-be-created dispensers.

“What kind of kind of qualifications will a dispenser have?” Vance questioned.

The newest bill includes tighter controls to track transactions and an expanded list of eligible medical conditions, including diabetes, Crohn’s disease and chronic or intractable pain that has proven otherwise untreatable. It also expands the methods of delivery to include vaporization along with oils, pills, liquids, gels, ointments and tinctures. Edible products and smoking it would not be allowed.

Under the proposal, patients would need a written certification from a doctor or nurse confirming that they have a qualifying medical condition and are likely to benefit from a prescription.