By Christen Smith
HARRISBURG (July 27) — Although hope for a medical cannabis compromise bill before the fall likely vanished when House members gaveled out last week, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, suggests legislators weren’t that close to an agreement anyway.
“Everybody understands that we have to have a full vetting of this issue before we move forward…,” Turzai told reporters after headlining at the Pennsylvania Press Club Luncheon Monday. “And we’re going to measure why the bill in front of us is so broadly written.”
“The bill” in front of House members — Senate Bill 3 — proposes creating a state board of Medical Cannabis Licensing to oversee a network of 65 growers, 65 processors and 130 dispensaries. The bill allows doctors to write cannabis recommendations for qualifying diseases only, some of which include chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, cancer and PTSD.
And though SB 3 passed the Senate in May on a vote of 40-7 — marking the second time in less than a year the chamber approved the measure — the House hasn’t been as unified behind the bill.
“The concept has support,” said House Republican Caucus spokesman Steve Miskin. “Everybody cares, but once you read the language of the legislation, that’s where the support breaks down.”
Enter the legislative working group, organized by House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana. Reed has expressed support for “some type” of medical cannabis bill, echoing concerns of other members that any legislation must have tight regulatory controls — which, some fear, SB 3 doesn’t include.
Another proposal, House Bill 1432 sponsored by Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, attempts to shrink the reach of SB 3 and quell the regulatory concerns plaguing House members.
Marsico’s bill gives the Drug and Alcohol Department power to authorize up to five “medical marijuana organizations” who will handle every aspect of growing, processing and selling. Each of the organizations can operate four dispensaries.
The organizations will pay an “excise tax” that will funnel into a Medical Marijuana Program Fund managed by the state Treasury. This fund will pay for the program itself, medical research and grants for law enforcement to support substance abuse programs.
His bill will also include “criminal penalties for diversion of medical marijuana, the falsification of identification cards and the adulteration of medical marijuana.”
“The language has been carefully drafted to ensure smooth implementation and reach our goal of helping those who so desperately need it,” Marsico said.
Miskin said Monday “no one” knows what a compromise bill will look like or where it will fall on the spectrum between SB 3 and HB 1432.
“We have to understand why all of the medical experts are so concerned about where we are heading, particularly with the direction we are going with the bill that came over from the Senate,” Turzai said, referencing the list of nearly three dozen medical advocacy groups opposed to medical cannabis legalization outside of the FDA approval process.
“Why isn’t the pressure on the federal government at the FDA level?” he said. “The bill that came over is entirely too far reaching and we are going to hear from the experts and we are going to hear from the parents.”