Q: What’s the status of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania?
A: A bill to allow it, SB 3, was approved 40-7 in the state Senate. The bill moved to the state House, where it was sent to the health committee. The health committee chair, state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, opposes the bill, and says he won’t allow a vote. Meanwhile, some House members say the bill would easily pass if given the chance. Supporters in the House are exploring ways to “unlock” the bill. Gov. Tom Wolf says he’ll sign it if it reaches his desk. Medical marijuana has strong public support. A Quinnipiac University poll in March concluded 85 percent of residents favor allowing medical marijuana. It found overwhelming support in every age, gender and partisan group.
Q: If there’s such strong support, why is there a delay in even holding a vote?
A: Opponents including Baker argue there is a lack of research showing benefits of marijuana. Baker also believes it will be a gateway to more drug addiction.
Q: It it true there’s a lack of research?
A: It depends who you ask. It’s fair to say there is a lack of studies that meet the standards commonly used in the approval of drugs in the United States. There’s good reason for that — the U.S. government lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medical benefit, high potential for abuse, and can’t be used safely even under a doctor’s supervision. That makes it hard to conduct marijuana research in the United States. Still, there’s widespread agreement marijuana doesn’t belong on Schedule I. And about 20 years ago researchers discovered a system of receptors in the brain which respond to various chemicals in marijuana. (This is the endocannabinoid system.) That prompted a burst of research around the world.
Q: What exactly would SB 3 allow?
A: It would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-derived substances to treat a dozen conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and seizures, ALS, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Health could authorize additional conditions.
Q: Would children being treated for seizures be given marijuana to smoke?
A: No. Smokable forms of marijuana aren’t allowed by SB 3. Marijuana-derived medications would largely take the form of oils and liquid extracts, which could be taken in the form of droplets, or vaporized, or consumed in several other approved methods.
Q: What would prevent medical marijuana from being used by people who aren’t sick and just want to get high?
A: People under the treatment of a doctor who believes medical marijuana is appropriate for them would obtain a medical cannabis card. Growers, processors and dispensers would be licensed, and their employees would be certified. Presumably, this would allow people who possess marijuana for non-approved purposes to be prosecuted.
Q: Where would the medical marijuana come from?
A: Pennsylvania. SB 3 calls for licensing 65 growers, 65 processors and 130 dispensaries.
Q: Would medical marijuana be taxed?
A: Yes. The Pennsylvania bill calls for a six percent “surcharge” which would be paid before the medical marijuana is purchased by the patient.