Pennsylvania Bill Receives Bipartisan Support for Patients to Grow Medical Cannabis

A pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers—one a Democrat, the other a Republican—joined forces this week to put their support behind a bill that would permit medical cannabis patients in the state to cultivate their own cannabis plants at home.

State Sens. Sharif Street, a Democrat, and Dan Laughlin, a Republican, said Wednesday that they will introduce legislation “in the near future”  to allow patients “to grow a limited number of cannabis plants from their home for personal use.”

The two legislators said that since the state’s medical marijuana law was established by a bill passed in 2016, the program “has offered lifesaving medicine to communities across the Commonwealth.”

“However, there are still inefficiencies around MMJ that are well known, especially as it relates to cost and access,” Street and Laughlin wrote in a memo circulated to other legislators in order to draw more cosponsors for the bill. “This year’s quarterly Pennsylvania MMJ Advisory board meeting revealed significant disparities in accessibility. The PA Department of Health indicated that patients in some counties must travel more than two hours in order to reach a dispensary. This is simply not feasible for many Pennsylvanians. In addition, patients have also been vocal on the fiscal challenges around the rising costs of medicine and affordability.”

In a statement announcing his support for the bill on Wednesday, Laughlin’s office cited the Marijuana Policy Project in saying that “15 of the 19 states that have legalized adult-use cannabis and about half of the medical cannabis states allow for personal cultivation.”

“In the states that have reasonable safeguards—such as limiting the number of plants per household and requiring plants to be secure and out of the public view—home cultivation of cannabis simply hasn’t been a problem,” Laughlin’s statement said. “No state has repealed home cultivation, and there has never been a serious push to do so.”

Laughlin, who said earlier this year that he is mulling a gubernatorial run in 2022, said that it “is critical that policy meet people where they are, and by allowing medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis plants at home, we can help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine.”

“This legislation would go a long way towards helping everyday Pennsylvanians meet their health needs and ensuring everyone is treated equitably and fairly under [the state’s medical marijuana law,” Laughlin said.

For Street, who represents parts of Philadelphia, marijuana advocacy is nothing new. (His Twitter bio contains a call to “legalize cannabis.”) 

Last month, he and Laughlin introduced a bill, SB 473, to legalize recreational pot for adults.

In announcing the bill, Street called legalization “an issue whose time has come,” and described prohibition as “an expensive failure of public policy which has criminalized patients, personal freedoms and impacted generations in a failed war on drugs that continues to burden taxpayers with growing costs to our criminal justice system.” 

“This bill makes both moral and fiscal sense and prioritizes the people of Pennsylvania,” Street said in a statement at the time.

“After almost a year of working with Senator Street, advocacy groups and constituents we have introduced SB 473, which we believe is the best option to legalize recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania,” Laughlin said in his own statement last month. “Through bi-partisan support, Senator Street and I believe that we have found a way to get this important legislation to the finish line. With most of the surrounding states passing legalization bills, it’s time to act now before we lose revenue due to border bleed. While the increase in revenue could raise around a billion dollars a year, the most important thing to me is that the industry will create thousands of family sustaining jobs that we so desperately need.”

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Minnesota Denies Coverage of Medical Marijuana for Injured Workers

Minnesota’s high court ruled this week that medical marijuana cannot be covered under workers’ compensation.

In a pair of decisions handed down last Wednesday, the state’s Supreme Court said that the federal prohibition on cannabis precludes employers from being required to cover medical marijuana treatment for employees who have been injured.

“If federal law preempts state law in this specific instance, then an employer cannot be ordered to reimburse an injured employee for the cost of medical cannabis used to treat the effects of a work-related injury,” Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote for the majority.

With the rulings on Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court “overturned earlier decisions by the state Workers Compensation Court of Appeals’ that ordered employers to pay for medical marijuana to treat work-related injuries,” according to the Associated Press.

The cases “involved a Mendota Heights dental hygienist who suffered an on-the-job neck injury and an employee at a Prior Lake outdoor equipment dealer who suffered an ankle injury when an ATV rolled over it,” according to the Associated Press, both of whom “were certified by their doctors to use medical marijuana after other treatments to control their pain, including opioids, proved inadequate.”

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Minnesota Denies Cannabis Coverage

The decision captures what has been a defining tension in this era of legalization in the United States: even as dozens of states have moved to end the prohibition on pot, weed remains banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act. 

“We recognize that the federal government’s position on criminal prosecution of cannabis offenses has been in a state of flux for over a decade. At one point, the United States Department of Justice announced that it would not prosecute cannabis offenses under the CSA when a cannabis user complies with state law, but the Department later rescinded those directions,” Anderson wrote. “Further, Congress has prohibited the Department of Justice from using allocated funds to prevent states from implementing medical cannabis laws.”

Anderson wrote that the court concluded “that mandating Mendota Heights to pay for Musta’s medical cannabis, by way of a court order, makes Mendota Heights criminally liable for aiding and abetting the possession of cannabis under federal law.”

“We agree that if the result here is not beneficial to the employee, the remedy is for Congress to pass, and the President to sign, legislation that addresses the preemption issues created by the conflict between federal and state law,” the justice wrote. 

There are growing signs that Congress is ready to do just that. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this year that Democrats on Capitol Hill were eager to pursue legislation ending the prohibition—with or without President Joe Biden.

“We will move forward,” Schumer said at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

Schumer, whose home state of New York legalized marijuana earlier this year, noted the changing attitudes and policies toward pot as a motivating factor in pursuing the legislation.

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up.

“Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said in an interview with Politico. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

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Smoking Weed And Your Rights – A BC Cannabis Consumption Lounge Crossword

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Navigating Legalization – Arcannabis Opens April 20, 2020

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