The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 26, 2014

Reports: Legal toking in Pa. a pipe dream

SUNBURY — Reports of states most likely in line to legalize marijuana beyond medicinal purposes leave Pennsylvania off the list, despite a growing push from advocates and lawmakers to permit the use of derivatives to alleviate illnesses such as seizure disorders.

A recent Huffington Post article identifies 14 states and the District of Columbia as next likely to legalize marijuana, with Alaska, New York and Rhode Island appearing to be front-runners. Nearly all of these 14 states have a jump on Pennsylvania as they already allow the medical use of cannabinoids.

Pennsylvania earned a “possible” rating for medical marijuana and recreational use in a Feb. 7 Mother Jones online story profiling all states where legalization has yet to happen, but labels decriminalizing pot a “pipe dream.”

For medical marijuana, Mother Jones cited Pennsylvania’s House Bill 1181 and Senate Bill 1182, which are in committee. Under those pieces of legislation, patients with a physician’s recommendation could buy marijuana from a state-regulated dispensary or grow specified quantities in private.

For recreational use, Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 528 — which would legalize and regulate adult use of marijuana — has been referred to committee. However, the Mother Jones story called it “a pipe dream” for Pennsylvania to reduce penalties.

None of this surprises Terry Madonna, of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. A well-known pollster, Madonna is director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, professor of public affairs and director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Of polls he’s conducted — and there have been many — about legalizing marijuana in the commonwealth, 36 percent of Pennsylvanians support the legalization of pot outright, “but something like 82 support medical marijuana,” he said.

The bigger issue is not public support, Madonna said, “but whether the conservative Pennsylvania Legislature is likely to” fully decriminalize the use of marijuana.

“My take,” he said, “is no.”

Presumably, a vote in May could bring the medical marijuana bill out of committee, Madonna said.

State Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, who co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill with state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware, “thinks if it gets to the floor, he has the votes to pass it,” Madonna said. “That creates what’s called a compassionate unit,” basically, a bureaucratic entity that would oversee licensing and control.

But outright legalization is “inconceivable,” Madonna said, at least any time soon.

His polls show most voters oppose the decriminalization favored by some Democratic candidates for governor, a move that would end incarcerations for those convicted of possessing small amounts of pot.

The Senate version of the bill is not scheduled for the floor next month, said Nick Troutman, spokesman for state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Loyalsock Township.

But “that doesn’t mean it won’t come up,” Troutman said, given daily changes to the calendar.

Folmer recently did “a really vocal call on the Senate floor, urging leadership to bring it up for vote,” Troutman said.

The state’s next budget has priority for now, Troutman said, and that needs to be approved and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett by June 30. Then, the Senate usually adjourns until September, unless sooner called by the Senate president pro tempore.

“There is a lot of support” for the medical marijuana bill, Troutman said, including that of Yaw. If the medical marijuana bill advances, the process will most likely be the Senate Law and Justice Committee and Appropriations Committee, then to the full Senate for a vote.

Moving through the state House, the process would be the House Health Committee and Appropriations Committee before full House for a vote.

If both chambers approve the bill, the legislator would move to Corbett for his signature.


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