From Jo Ann Lawer, Director of Government Affairs
Pennsylvania's proposed Medical Cannabis Act, in its present form, has significant support in the state Senate these days, but it faces many questions in the House: mainly, who can -- and cannot -- write medical cannabis recommendations for patients, and how to keep those recommendations from falling into the wrong hands.
Last September, Senate Bill 1182 passed with 43 yes votes. Despite this -- and overwhelming support from polled Pennsylvania voters -- the House never considered the bill, insisting that it didn't go far enough to regulate what would essentially become an entirely new industry across the state. Senate Bill 3 was introduced in January, to replace SB 1182 and address those House concerns.
SB 3 does say that healthcare providers must be authorized to prescribe Schedule III drugs. Massage therapists, athletic trainers and others who “perform healing arts” do not fall into that category, and SB 3 would tighten the language to prevent such practitioners from doing just that.
In its current form, SB 3 requires patients to first receive a physician's recommendation, then apply for an access card through the Department of Health. Both the recommendation and access card would be presented at the time of purchase, and all along the way, the information would be electronically shared with the state to monitor who is prescribing, who is buying and how much.
Law enforcement officials say the problem is that there's no way to track what the patient does with the drug once it’s obtained.
Sen. Mike Folmer’s office said one solution could come by limiting the amount of cannabis a patient can buy at one time. The language in SB 3 currently restricts purchases to 30-day supplies only, but Folmer proposes an amendment to change this to a quantity limit instead.
The district attorneys’ association, while remaining neutral on the legislation, urged lawmakers to make the list of qualifying medical conditions as narrow as possible, to prevent the sort of abuse reported in California, where less than 5 percent of recommendations are issued for serious illnesses, like cancer and HIV.
For now, lawmakers in both chambers appear willing to find a compromise — something Folmer and other medical cannabis supporters couldn't say six months ago.