Friday, March 18, 2016

PA House Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

Andrea Sears, Public News Service
Lolly Bentch and her daughter, who is diagnosed with mesial temporal sclerosis. (Lolly Bentch)
Lolly Bentch and her daughter, who is diagnosed with mesial temporal sclerosis. (Lolly Bentch)

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Parents and patients celebrated in Harrisburg on Wednesday as a bill to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana passed in the House.

After intense debate and consideration of some 200 amendments, the bill was passed with broad, bipartisan support. As co-founder of the group Campaign4Compassion, Lolly Bentch, whose daughter needs the medication to control seizures, described the passage of Senate Bill 3 as "pure joy."

"We were all in the gallery to watch it," she said. "We were completely overcome with emotion. I don't know if there was a dry eye in the house, you know - it was just absolutely indescribable joy."

The bill now goes to the Senate, which has passed similar legislation twice before. Gov. Tom Wolf, a strong supporter of the measure, said he will sign it when it reaches his desk.

The bill allows doctors to certify patients to use medical cannabis in pill or liquid form to treat a variety of conditions including seizures, cancer, HIV, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder. Bentch said it also will give some legal protection to patients and their parents during the implementation process.

"A lot of people have been forced to do things that they never thought that they would do," she said, "to risk losing their child, having somebody take them away from you, just because you wanted them to be well."

It will take time to establish the systems necessary to produce and distribute medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Based on experiences in other states, Bentch said, she believes full implementation could take two or three years.

"It'd be great to see it done in about two years, but the sooner that two-year process can start, the better, of course," she said. "So, we're really anxious to see the governor sign this into law."

The text of the bill is online at legis.state.pa.us.

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