HARRISBURG — Legislation to permit the medical use of marijuana in Pennsylvania is poised to clear the state Senate, but movement is expected to slow — perhaps to a halt — if the measure reaches the House.
The bill, championed by Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, would require patients to secure a doctor’s authorization and would not permit the marijuana to be smoked.
His proposal moved toward the Senate floor Tuesday with a 21-5 vote of the Appropriations Committee. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said he expects the full Senate to vote today with an “overwhelming majority in favor of the bill.”
Before the committee voted, three members told of their own children’s experiences with seizures. It was an increasingly personal turn for the discussion of a bill whose most vocal advocates have been parents seeking treatment for uncontrolled pediatric seizure disorders.
“I have a daughter, who’s soon to be 23, who has between two and six seizures a day,” said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. “Do I know if medical marijuana will lessen the intensity of those seizures? Do I know if it will shorten the length of those seizures, or have her more relaxed?”
“What I do know is the medications they give her now, the concoctions of very, very strong anti-seizure medicine, just puts them out, put these kids out and adults out. So it’s a bit about a little bit of hope of quality of life.”
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, also spoke of his family’s experience in supporting the bill. For many years, he said, he and his wife struggled to find the right mixture of medications to treat their child’s epilepsy condition. Medications ultimately proved to be successful, he said.
“I can tell you that in those dark days, those dark evenings, when we were struggling with multiple events each evening, it was very scary to us not knowing whether or not we would be in a position to find the right mixture,” he said.
But a third member, Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, urged caution as he cited the success of conventional drugs in treating his son’s seizures.
”We’re taking a real leap of faith here on something that is just not proven,” he said.
He was one of several Republican members who pushed to delay the proposal until further study could be conducted.
“Frankly, I can’t believe we’re here today discussing this topic,” said Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster. “I am very concerned that we would take legislative action that I think goes well beyond the established science and goes beyond where the medical community is.”
If the bill clears the Senate, it will be referred to a House committee for at least one hearing, said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans. Caucus leadership has expressed skepticism that the state, rather than the federal government, should consider designating marijuana as a medicine.
“Our members have questions,” Mr. Miskin said. “I don’t think people fully understand the new bureaucracy that’s being set up.”