Pa. panel nudges medical marijuana forward; hurdles await when lawmakers reconvene

    A proposal to legalize medical marijuana has been left to smolder until the fall, as Pennsylvania lawmakers have started their summer break without bringing the bill for a final vote before either the House or the Senate.

    The proposed regulatory framework for growing and prescribing medical cannabis got a key committee vote in the Senate last month, prompting tearful embraces among supporters and lawmakers.

    “We’re in the game. We’re in play,” said Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, a leading proponent of medical marijuana. “We’ve got to move the process along.”

    Supporters of medical marijuana legalization include veterans and cancer patients who say their ailments can be treated with some form of cannabis. More recently, parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy have raised the profile of those seeking a marijuana oil extract to treat debilitating seizures.

    The challenge for them will be to see a bill through to passage before the legislative session ends this year. The measure awaits more votes in the Senate, which isn’t back in session until September. The next hurdle will be in the House, where the Republican majority remains opposed to legalizing medical marijuana.

    Folmer, a cancer survivor and unlikely ally of liberal Democrats on the medical marijuana issue, has hesitated to predict final passage of the measure this year.

    “I don’t want to jinx myself,” Folmer said in June after the proposal was approved by the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “We have a battle to go forward.”

    Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.

    Gov. Tom Corbett has relaxed his stance against it, proposing an as yet vaguely defined pilot program to allow some children with severe epilepsy to take cannabis oil under the supervision of certain hospitals. But supporters of the broader medical marijuana legalization say such a narrow program isn’t good enough.

    “We can’t say yes to a couple kids and no to the vast majority of them,” said Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, who for years supported marijuana legalization, far out in front of the Republican-controlled Senate.

    “We hope the governor is on board and engaged with that,” Leach said. “But if he’s not, we’re going to pass it despite him.”

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