Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Doesn’t Go Far Enough

The medical marijuana bill that passed the Pennsylvania Senate earlier this week was gutted before it was voted on. The new bill cuts out HIV and AIDS patients.

It seemed like a victory on Wednesday when the Pennsylvania Senate passed a medical marijuana bill. It passed the Senate by a wide margin, 43-7. But the truth is it doesn’t go far enough. Before it was passed, the bill was gutted by amendment — senators removed a host of conditions medical marijuana could have been used for.

“We don’t want to give off the impression that this is a whole victory,” Dana Ulrich, whose daughter has intractable epilepsy that medical marijuana could help, told The Patriot-News. “There are patients all over Pennsylvania who are still going to be ignored if this becomes law.”

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana bill isn’t a total wash. It still allows marijuana use for a host of conditions, including the epilepsy that Ulrich’s daughter suffers from, as well as cancer, ALS, MS and Parkinson’s. Among the conditions that were stripped in a last-minute amendment: AIDS, HIV, spinal cord disease and injury, rheumatoid arthritis, Chron’s disease, migraines and even glaucoma — a condition that is well-documented to be relieved by marijuana. (Though, perhaps the Senate was just listening to the American Glaucoma Society, which does not support medical marijuana.) The bill also removed vaporization as an approved method for ingestion of medical marijuana.

Those conditions were removed from the bill by an amendment offered by Sen. David Argall, who represents parts of Schuylkill and Berks counties. (Montco Democrat Daylin Leach and Lebanon County’s Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican, were the bill’s sponsors.) Getting even this weakened bill to pass is a triumph of some sort in Pennsylvania. And despite medical marijuana’s 84-percent support in Pennsylvania, the bill is unlikely to pass the House in the few days remaining on Pennsylvania’s legislative calendar anyway.

But it’s still disappointing the bill was amended to limit its usefulness right before it passed. Conservatives worried of a California-style approach, which essentially amounts to full legalization. But Pennsylvania’s bill does nothing of the sort: It would require prospective medical cannabis users to apply to the state Department of Health for use in its condition.

“Legalizing medical cannabis therapy but not for HIV/AIDS is like legalizing gay marriage but not for lesbians,” medical marijuana activist Jay Lassiter said in a statement. “Pennsylvania’s amended SB1182 is no longer a ‘medical marijuana’ bill but a ‘limited cannabis products’ bill. This is an atrocious, cruel compromise made for political expediency. Sadly this new version will not likely move fast enough for the patients who still qualify should this bill become law.”

The House won’t act, though Philly’s NORML chapter is trying to influence it with a petition signed by more than 2,000 people. Many state senate politicians can go home and talk about how they support medical marijuana — but unless they continue to support and vote for medical pot bills, they won’t have actually opened up access to all the people who need the drug.