Doctors across Pennsylvania are a step closer to receiving the ability to recommend medical cannabis to patients with cancer, epilepsy and several other approved medical conditions. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the Medical Cannabis Act, sending the legislation to the House, where it still faces uncertainty. The bill prohibits the smoking of medical marijuana, but allows physicians to recommend other forms of medical cannabis, such as oils, ointments and tinctures.
“At the end of the day, this is really about one thing. It’s about getting the best medicine in the most effective delivery method to people who are sick,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach, one of the lead sponsors of the bill. “If any one of us were sick, if any one of us had a sick child or sick brother or a sick mother, this is the only thing in the world we would care about.”
A Montgomery County Democrat considered among the most liberal in the Senate, Leach had an unlikely ally and co-sponsor in state Sen. Mike Folmer, a Lebanon County Republican considered among the most conservative members of the chamber. Despite falling on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Leach and Folmer found common ground on medical cannabis and joined forces to marshal the bill through the Senate for the second time in a year. Leach has filled his legislative website with stories of children with epilepsy and other conditions that can cause dozens of seizures a day, and credited a group of mothers who have advocated for medical marijuana in helping usher along its passing.
The bill passed 40-7. Not everybody is convinced, though, especially as researchers point to the need for further study of the effects of medical cannabis. State Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, worked as a nurse before coming to the General Assembly and noted the Pennsylvania Medical Society does not support the legislation. She also said the American Epilepsy Society looked at a form of medical marijuana used to treat children with seizures and found no significant reductions in seizures for most patients.
“I know that’s not what people want to hear, but those are the facts as I know it,” Vance said.
State senators expanded the legislation earlier in the week to also allow nurse practitioners coordinating with a physician to recommend medical marijuana. Another amendment allows vaporization as a delivery method for patients with cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and seizures.
Lawmakers also added Crohn’s disease, diabetes and chronic and intractable pain to the list of conditions that can be treated by medical cannabis. A new state Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing would license medical cannabis growers, processes and dispensers and enforce the act, leading some House members to worry about setting up another government bureaucracy.