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Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Grimmett/Creative Commons

A group of state senators have been working hard to make Pennsylvania the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.

State Senators Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) introduced Senate Bill 3 at the end of January. If passed, the bill would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis edibles, oils and tinctures.

“Thousands of people could benefit from this because of any given condition they have —cancer patients, HIV/AIDS patients, people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the list goes on,” said Steve Hoenstine, press secretary for Leach who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “What really matters is that we are able to create the best medical cannabis protocol for Pennsylvania, something that is going to help as many people as possible and that is safe and controlled.”

A medical marijuana bill passed the Pa. senate in September on a 43-7 vote, but the House of Representatives did not vote on the bill, as former Gov. Tom Corbett threatened to veto it. However, with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf taking office in January, medical marijuana advocates are trying again.

“When it passed the senate last year, Gov. Corbett was still the governor, and he never engaged on this issue with us and he was an outspoken opponent of what we were trying to do,” Hoenstine said. “Gov. Wolf is the total opposite. He and his staff have welcomed this. We’ve talked to them about this bill extensively.”

Equally importantly as Gov. Wolf’s support, the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader — who controls the agenda in the Republican-controlled House — has expressed support for medical cannabis. “The new majority leader, Rep. Dave Reed, is very open to this. He seems to be very engaged with this issues,” Hoenstine added.

The new leadership and the new governor seem to be more closely aligning with public sentiment on this issue. According to a poll by Quinnipiac University taken in 2014, 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters support some form of medical marijuana.

“It’s overwhelmingly popular,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin and Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, who has also polled voters on the issue. His poll also showed over 80 percent of voters supported medical marijuana. “I don’t think there would be a big blowback politically to vote for it, so really the problem has been the House.”

Specifically, Republicans in the state House have been skeptical and do not view the issue as a priority. But for Sen. Folmer, a Republican co-sponsor of Senate Bill 3, medical marijuana aligns with his conservative values — something he hopes to prove to his Republican colleagues.

“To me it’s a freedom issue,” Folmer said. “My argument is this: I don’t believe there should be a government or anyone that gets between myself and my doctor in treating whatever illness I am fighting.”

Folmer added that a vote in the senate will likely happen sometime after a hearing on the subject on Feb. 25.

While the bill has major consequences for Pa., Penn’s Code of Student Conduct will continue to prohibit the use of any illegal drugs on campus. Because use of marijuana will remain a federal crime, it is unlikely that Penn will allow use on campus, regardless of whether the bill becomes law.

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