Pennsylvania Becomes the 24th State To Legalize Medical Marijuana

By Keri Blakinger 04/19/16

Pennsylvania's medical marijuana patients won't be allowed to smoke cannabis buds but they can use the drug in the form of pills and oil. 

Pennsylvania Becomes the 24th State To Legalize Medical Marijuana
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Medical marijuana is officially legal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On Sunday, the Keystone State became the 24th U.S. state to approve medical marijuana. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law in front of a large crowd gathered at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg. "This is really a great day for Pennsylvania," said Wolf. "This is really a great day for all of us."

State lawmakers hailed the bipartisan effort. "It is among our proudest moments and it is our gift for generations to come," said Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Montgomery County. "I can't help thinking this is what government is supposed to look like."

In all, it took about two and a half years to get the governor’s signature on the bill. "This whole process has been long and torturous and it seemed like it was just never going to end," said medical marijuana advocate, Lolly Bentsch. "And it was tear-filled and it was heartbreaking because we lost people along the way but we had each other. Had it not been such a long journey, had it not felt like torture at times, today wouldn't be nearly as special."

Under the new law, people with 17 different qualifying medical conditions, including cancer, PTSD, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, can qualify for cannabis-derived medications. It will take 18 months to get the program up and running, but children with seizure disorders won't have to wait for the law to go into effect. The law allows the parents or guardians of children with intractable seizures to access and use cannabis oil before it officially goes on sale, according to High Times.

Similar to New York's recent medical marijuana law, patients in Pennsylvania will have access to cannabis tinctures, pills and oils, but are not legally approved to smoke cannabis, according to the High Times. And to obtain marijuana edibles, the patient's condition must require it to be ingested. This means that patients can still be arrested for possession of the raw plant material, or cannabis buds, since it is not approved under the new law.

In addition to allowing patients with debilitating illnesses to access some forms of marijuana, Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program will also fund research to study marijuana's effects on other conditions. Additional funding will go to drug abuse education and prevention efforts, and counseling and treatment services. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.