What you need to know about MMJ in PA

On Sunday April 17th of this year, Governor Tom Wolfe made Pennsylvania state history by signing into law Senate Bill 3, the bill known informally across the state as the Medical Marijuana Act.  Though the road to legalization in Pennsylvania has been a very long one, SB3 brings overdue relief to patients and families all across Pennsylvania and brings Pennsylvania to the forefront of a nationwide movement toward medical cannabis legalization.

In fact, since Governor Wolfe signed SB3, an additional nine states have vote on various marijuana-related measures and seven of them have passed, which means that as of today, more than half of the United States have passed comprehensive medical marijuana laws.

Because it can be a little difficult to keep up with quickly changing medical marijuana laws locally and nationally, here’s a quick guide to what SB3 means for Pennsylvanians.

So, What Is Medical Marijuana?
As defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, “medical marijuana is a term which refers to the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom.”  In 1996, California became the first state to pass medical marijuana legislation, since then, 25 states and Washington DC have legalized some form of a medicinal cannabis program.

Who Can It Help?
A lot of people.  While medical marijuana doesn’t “cure” any particular disease, it has proven to be an incredibly effective tool in combating symptoms related to a broad spectrum of illnesses including glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohns, Huntington's and epilepsy.  Furthermore, there is significant reason to believe that medical marijuana may alleviate some of the difficult side effects of cancer treatments and chemotherapy, and a 2010 study by Mcgill University Health Centre found evidence to suggest that medical marijuana reduces pain, improves sleep and alleviates nausea, muscle spasms and loss of appetite for patients suffering from many types of chronic disease.  

Will This New Bill Let Everyone In Pennsylvania Get Medical Marijuana?
No.  There remains much to learn about the efficacy of medical marijuana and as such medical marijuana will only be available to patients who suffer with qualifying conditions.  Furthermore, patients under the age of 18 must have a “caregiver” who is approved by the Department of Health in order to obtain medical marijuana. 

Where Will the Marijuana Come From?
The short answer is, it will come from licensed growers in Pennsylvania, who will in turn distribute their marijuana through a state-run system of dispensaries.

The longer answer is, the state is working hard to develop a carefully regulated network of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries, but it’s going to take some time to get the entire system “up and running”.  Governor Wolfe recently told “PA Matters’ Radio PA” that, given both the complexity and the care Pennsylvania is putting into the design of their distribution network, the program may not be ready until 2018.  

Will Anyone Else Benefit From SB3?
Actually, yes.  What’s exciting about SB3 is that it’s good for many types of patients in Pennsylvania.  In addition to providing compassionate relief to patients and families suffering from chronic and often debilitating diseases, SB3 provides critical financial support for many important Pennsylvania medical initiatives including: revenue for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs; funding for further medical marijuana research and the establishment of an advisory committee to suggest new medical marijuana legislation.

In fact, there are reasons to believe the ancillary benefits of SB3 could combat opioid addiction rates, raise Pennsylvania state tax revenue and positively impact state-wide employment rates.  

Which is all to say, though we’re at the very beginning of a long process to bring much-needed compassionate relief to patients and families across the state, in the end SB3 may very well prove to be good for all Pennsylvanians.