As the Pennsylvania state Senate is set to reconvene on Sept. 15, a hotly contested national issue sits near the top of its agenda: medical marijuana.
The bipartisan Senate Bill 1182, titled the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, passed the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee unanimously on June 27. When state senators return from their summer recess, the bill will go up for a vote in the Appropriations Committee, after which it could be voted on by the general body.
Currently, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of legalized marijuana for medical use. Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania all have pending medical marijuana legislation that could act as decisive issues going into the 2014 midterm elections.
“We are planning on hopefully moving out of appropriations on Sept. 15 and on to a full Senate floor vote on Sept. 16 … and get it over to the House as soon we can,” state Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) and one of the bill’s sponsors said. “We have the votes, but we just need to get through the political process, and that can be very slow because our system of government is never really meant to be fast.”
While it remains unclear if the state legislature will pass the bill, Pennsylvanians increasingly favor medical marijuana. According to a poll by Quinnipiac University taken in March 2014, 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters support some form of medical marijuana. But even with public support and momentum in the state legislature, the governor is likely to veto any legalization legislation.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett stands opposed to broad medical marijuana legalization and has only voiced support for limited access for children with severe seizure disorders. Corbett’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
As a result of resistance in the governor’s office, advocates such as Folmer believe that “we need to get it out with super majority votes,” which could override a veto from the governor.
“The bill gives people an alternative to some of these other medications that are out there that are either not working, or people just don’t like the side effects,” Folmer said. “It’s probably one of the best pieces of medical cannabis bills in the country, and it could be used as model legislation.”
While the legislative debate has focused on the medical side of cannabis, legalization could affect the quality of recreational marijuana as well.
“At Penn especially, when people sell bud they have no idea how old it is, they have no idea what strains it is, they have no idea if it is sativa or indica, and I think that is a problem,” said a College senior who has a medical marijuana card in his home state of California and who preferred to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. “A card offers you a lot of information because it no longer is a black market thing.”
If the bill were to pass in Pennsylvania, he thinks smoking would be less stigmatized. “At Penn, it is fine if you smoke, but there are stereotypes of people who smoke,” said the senior — who got his first prescription at 18 for a shoulder injury, but has primarily used it for recreational purposes.
However, he predicts that the major effects would be more about mentality, rather than actually usage.
“Honestly, I don’t think that many kids would get cards,” he said. “All you’ll need is your dealer to get a card, he buys a few different types, he puts them in jars that show you the THC percentage, the freshness and that level of information that I appreciate will be available to everyone.”
Penn’s Code of Student Conduct prohibits the use of any illegal drugs on campus. Because use of marijuana remains a federal crime, it is unlikely that Penn will allow usage on campus, regardless of whether the Pennsylvania law passes.