The governor of Pennsylvania on Wednesday signed medical marijuana legislation that extends certain policies that were temporarily enacted during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the legislation, cannabis curbside deliveries will continue, patients can obtain a 90-day—rather than 30-day—supply for cannabis and the cap on the number of patients that a caregiver can serve would also be removed indefinitely.
“It’s been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program’s successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law,” Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said in a press release. “This legislation provides important updates to our state’s medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication.”
— Office of the Governor (@GovernorsOffice) June 30, 2021
HB 1024 also keeps in place COVID-19 temporary policies that loosened restrictions on criminal background checks for medical cannabis workers. And patients can still be certified to participate in the program by a physician remotely via telehealth.
Sponsors also argue that the measure will create jobs because it incorporates hemp growers into the medical marijuana supply chain.
While advocates are encouraged by these provisions being codified, they remain frustrated that the GOP-controlled legislature rejected an amendment from Sen. Sharif Street (D) that would’ve allowed patients 21 and older to cultivate up to five plants for personal use. That would’ve marked a notable expansion of the state’s existing program through which cannabis is only legally available from dispensaries.
Under the measure, cultivation would’ve had to take place in an “enclosed and locked space,” and patients would’ve needed to “take reasonable precautions to ensure that the plants are secure from unauthorized access, including unauthorized access by an individual under 21 years of age.”
Further, only patients or caregivers would’ve been able to tend to the plants. And violating the measure by growing more than five plants, selling or giving them away would’ve resulted in the loss of home cultivation privileges, as well as other penalties prescribed under the law.
Some advocates are also concerned about another provision of the now-signed bill that allows businesses to remediate contaminated marijuana products and sell them after an independent lab confirmed they were restored. But that’s a fairly common practice among legal states.
Street was able to attach language providing financial assistance to low-income patients to the bill, however, and he said he is “encouraged” that GOP lawmakers supported that change even though they blocked the separate home cultivation amendment.
“Accessibility and cost have been a burden to patients for too long. We took a crucial step towards helping many access this medicine,” he told Marijuana Moment. “We still have work to do.”
Advocates are disappointed by the Senate’s rejection of home grow rights for patients, though, and they’re still also closely following broader adult-use legalization proposals.
Two Pennsylvania lawmakers are actively circulating a memo to build support for a legalization bill they plan to introduce shortly, for example.
This comes as a bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. Street and Sen. Dan Laughlin (R) announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Street told Marijuana Moment last week that the two are still “finalizing language” of the legalization measure but will introduce it before the end of this session.
Meanwhile, Laughlin joined his Republican colleagues in voting to table Street’s home cultivation amendment.
Separately, two bills to decriminalize cannabis alone were introduced in the GOP-controlled House and Senate in January, but they’ve yet to receive hearings in the committees to which they were referred.
Outside the legislature, the governor said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model. A new version of that proposal was refiled in the current legislative session.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.
Last month, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marks his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released last month found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.