This legislative session has been a difficult one, with a drawn-out and contentious debate about the budget and slow progress on an issue that is vital to thousands of Pennsylvanians who are facing devastating illnesses — medical cannabis.
The Legislature has been considering some form of a medical cannabis bill since 2009, and every two years, the session ends before anything is done to help suffering patients. Last May, the Senate overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 3, the latest incarnation of this much-needed bill. During the summer, I was honored to serve on a working group appointed by House Majority Leader Dave Reed to examine the issue. We came up with a number of recommendations for a House version of the bill, and we expected a vote by fall.
For the past two years, supporters of medical cannabis have been holding press conferences and sharing their stories. They even set up a simulated doctor’s office waiting room in the Capitol Rotunda to bring attention to their plight. Children with severe epilepsy, people suffering from cancer and numerous other serious conditions, and their loved ones talked to lawmakers day after day in the hopes of getting us to take action. One young girl who could have benefited from medical cannabis tragically passed away from her illness while waiting for a compassionate bill.
As voting session resumes, we have yet another opportunity to support a comprehensive, effective medical cannabis program. In order to do that, several things must happen.
First, the provision that creates a cap on the percentage of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that may be present in medical cannabis should be removed. This was not included in the work group recommendations and is an inappropriate restriction. There is no evidence to suggest that stronger concentrations of THC present a danger to patients. If anything, it means that they can achieve the desired result while consuming less of the substance. It is especially ridiculous to consider capping THC levels when the only federally approved medical cannabis product, dronabinol, is basically 100 percent THC! It is clear that different conditions respond to different levels of THC, and those decisions should be made by health care professionals, not legislators.
Second, the program should also allow for the whole marijuana plant to be used. New research is coming out all the time about the medical uses of various compounds within the plant, and how they work together to combat certain symptoms and conditions. It is my hope that the advisory committee attached to the Pennsylvania Department of Health will have the flexibility and authority to expand this legislation as research develops. Patients and their health care providers should not be denied a variety of strains of medical cannabis that are in use throughout the country.
Finally, patients should be provided with immediate protection from arrest. Patients should not have to wait as long as two years for legal protections, as the wheels of bureaucracies turn and dispensaries buy property, hire staff, and grow and harvest cannabis. Most medical cannabis states provide some kind of legal protections to patients, so if they are already accessing cannabis, perhaps in a state where they establish residence for medical cannabis access, they will not risk their freedom for preserving their health.
But most importantly, my fellow lawmakers must not delay any longer. It is our moral obligation to help our fellow Pennsylvanians alleviate their suffering by passing a well-regulated, comprehensive medical cannabis bill as soon as possible. I urge the House to fix the problems with Senate Bill 3 and bring it to a vote.
Rep. Mike Regan is a Republican who represents parts of York and Cumberland counties.