“Well, I would have preferred a perfect bill — and this is not a perfect bill,” Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach said of S.B. 1182.
Also known as the Medical Cannabis Act, the bill cleared the upper chamber with a vote of 43-7. Support for the measure’s passage in the state House waned, however, as advocates debated whether it was really a win. Marijuana.com spoke with Leach by phone following the vote.
“It’ll provide an awful lot of help for a lot of people and it also provides a system for the whole regime to grow over time.” said Leach, a supporter of better marijuana policy in Pennsylvania for decades. Not all medical marijuana advocates share his optimism.
An opinion piece on Philadelphia Magazine’s website lamented that the bill does not do enough, with former proponents disappointed about a change in the bill’s terms before passage.
“Pennsylvania’s amended SB 1182 is no longer a ‘medical marijuana’ bill but a ‘limited cannabis products’ bill,” Jay Lassiter says in the article. Lassiter is an HIV-positive medical marijuana activist from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
An amendment passed before the bill came out of committee the day before the full Senate vote stripped 29 of about 40 qualifying conditions from the final draft, including glaucoma and HIV/AIDS. It also removed vaporization as an option. This after a previous amendment removed smoking as a way of medicating.
“This statement could not possibly have been made by anyone who has read the bill or understands the process.” Leach responded to Lassiter’s assessment that the bill is “an atrocious and cruel compromise made for political expediency.”
“To pass a bill setting up a protocol to grow, process and dispense marijuana to thousands of sick people in Pennsylvania, in a Republican controlled Senate, is nothing sort of a miracle.” Leach wrote. The legislative miracles, unfortunately, seem likely to end there.
The Marijuana Policy Project expressed ambivalence on the issue in two emails they sent to supporters before and after the vote. The national advocacy group’s first email followed the Senate Appropriations Committee voting 21-5 on September 23 to move the amended bill on to a full Senate vote.
“Unfortunately, even if the Senate passes the bill tomorrow, as it is expected to, a victory would be bittersweet.” MPP Director of State Policies, Karen O’Keefe wrote.
“In order to gain support from reluctant colleagues, SB 1182 was amended to strike the option of vaporizing cannabis (smoking was already forbidden) and to delete dozens of conditions, including spinal cord injury, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis,” she said. “For many patients, the immediate onset of smoked or vaporized cannabis is essential to providing relief: Nauseated patients can’t afford to wait an hour for their medicine to kick in.”
The email urged supporters to contact their senators and let them know that 85 percent of Pennsylvanians want a bill without the restrictions. Little hope remained, however, of changing the bill before the vote.
The next day all 23 Democrats and 20 of the 27 Republicans in the Senate voted in favor. A last ditch effort by Senator Lloyd Smucker, one of the seven voting against, would have caused even more anger.
The offered amendment aimed to remove all conditions except for seizures and epilepsy, aimed at sick children. This change would have brought the bill in line with what Republican Governor Tom Corbett said he would not veto. The Smucker Amendment failed by a vote of 42-8.
After the weakened bill passed the Senate, MPP again sent an email to supporters with bittersweet sentiments.
“Unfortunately, even if this legislation passes, it would leave most patients behind, and wouldn’t allow them to administer cannabis in the way that works best for them,” said MPP Deputy Director of State Policies Robert J Capecchi.
Only six session days remain in the state House before the legislative session ends. Republican Leadership has already expressed their intention to demand committee hearings, further complicating hopes of swift passage.
Looking toward the November elections offers some consolation for advocates. With Corbett down heavily in thegubernatorial polls against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, it looks like marijuana advocates will have an ally in the Governor’s Mansion come January.
Leach told Marijuana.com that he intends to submit another medical marijuana bill should the session expire without House passage. He added that it might even be beneficial to pass the bill next year.