In 2018, the first full year of operations for the retail medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania, patients spent more than $130 million on the herbal medication.
“The first year that the state’s medical marijuana program has been operational tells us that this program is working to help Pennsylvanians in need of this medication,” Governor Wolf said. “Patients are realizing the benefits and there has been steady, positive progress that I am pleased to report.”
Gov. Wolf signed the bill legalizing medical marijuana into law on April 17, 2016, and now the first full year has been proclaimed a great success with more than 116,000 patients being registered. Of the card-holding patients, more than 83,000 purchased products from a dispensary, and more than 600,000 transactions were collectively reported by the licensed dispensaries. Medical marijuana sales reported for the year totaled more than $132 million, and the state also collected more than $2 million in taxes from licensed growers and processors.
Pennsylvania state lawmakers like Sen. Jay Costa shared in the excitement of a successful first year. “In its first year of operation, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program helped 83,000 folks access medication, dispensed from nearly 600,000 times at approved dispensaries across the state,” Sen. Costa wrote on Twitter. “Wow! Clearly, this was a serious need in the Commonwealth.”
Inspired by the successful first full year, officials plan to expand the program by licensing more physicians, producers and retail dispensaries. “Our goal for the next year and beyond is to increase the number of grower/processors and dispensaries operating, to register even more physicians and to continue the growth of our scientific, medically based program,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement.
To apply for a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania, patients suffering from one of the qualifying conditions must first receive a recommendation from a state-licensed physician. Conditions that qualify for the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania include:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Cancer, including remission therapy
- Crohn’s disease
- Damage to the nervous tissue of the central nervous system (brain-spinal cord)
- Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders
- HIV / AIDS
- Huntington’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intractable seizures
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Opioid use disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain
- Sickle cell anemia
- Terminal illness
Currently, there are only 45 retail locations certified to sell medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, but the state plans to issue 23 additional permits in the coming months. Nearly 500 more physicians are also expected to become certified to recommend medical cannabis.
A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana could advance in the Pennsylvania legislature this week.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up the bill, which was filed by Republican state Rep. Barry Jozwiak, a former state trooper and Berks County sheriff. The legislation seeks to make possession of under 30 grams of cannabis a summary offense punishable by up to a $300 fine and no jail time for first- and second-time offenders.
Though simple possession is already effectively decriminalized in several Pennsylvania jurisdictions, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, state law considers the offense a third-degree misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to a $500 fine, up to 30 days of jail time and a drivers license suspension.
“Downgrading this offense from a misdemeanor to a summary offense would have a positive effect on local law enforcement efforts, allowing police and prosecutors to focus their time and resources on more serious offenses,” Jozwiak wrote in a co-sponsorship memorandum in February 2017.
“As a former law enforcement officer, I strongly believe in cracking down on drug dealers and those who prey on the young or weak with drugs. But those defendants are addressed elsewhere in the Controlled Substances Act. For individuals who merely possess small amounts of marijuana, I believe this adjusted grading makes sense.”
A prior version of the bill was introduced in 2015, but it did not receive a committee vote. And while marijuana reform advocates are supportive of efforts to eliminate criminal punishments for cannabis offenses, some view Jozwiak’s bill as a red herring.
“Reducing the misdemeanor level offense to a non-traffic summary citation will keep thousands out of the criminal justice system and will help to alleviate the disparity in cannabis enforcement,” Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We cannot, however, support legislation that will nonetheless continue to expose Pennsylvanians to criminal prosecution.”
“HB 928 would escalate to a misdemeanor if the individual has two prior summary convictions for cannabis possession. An amendment would also criminalize mere possession in a motor vehicle. We believe this will continue to incentivize law enforcement to harass cannabis consumers. We also believe this is yet another attempt to control cannabis consumption through with threats of criminal prosecution which has proven to be an abysmal failure.”
Under Jozwiak’s bill, a third marijuana possession offense would be considered a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and no jail time. The individual’s third possession offense would lead to a drivers license suspension, but that suspension would expire after six months.
Nightingale and other advocates have their sites set on more far-reaching proposed marijuana reforms.
A majority of Pennsylvania voters (59 percent) back full marijuana legalization. But political leadership on the issue has been lacking in the Keystone State, leaving a void for reform that either party could theoretically occupy.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is a supporter of the state’s medical cannabis program, which he signed into law, but said as recently as Monday that he’s not ready back a bill to legalize marijuana for adult-use and wants to continue to observe other legal states before enacting such a program in Pennsylvania.
Wolf does, however, favor decriminalizing marijuana. And his lieutenant governor running mate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, supports outright legalization.
Meanwhile, the state House and Senate is GOP-run. Though there’s modest support for basic reform efforts such as decriminalization, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) has represented a consistent roadblock on the path to legalization. He was reportedly brought to tears at a closed-door caucus meeting about a prospective medical marijuana program in 2015.
If the Jozwiak decriminalization bill makes it our of the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, it’s unclear if or when it would be scheduled for floor action.
Opinions about legalization notwithstanding, there’s considerable support for marijuana reform across the United States. Pennsylvania is no exception, and it’s increasingly apparent that lawmakers on both side of the aisle who align themselves with moves to change cannabis laws are likely to find supportive constituents.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Pennsylvania Lawmakers To Vote On Marijuana Decriminalization This Week