HARRISBURG — Legislation that would permit patients with certain medical conditions to be treated with marijuana derivatives cleared the Pennsylvania Senate 43-7 on Wednesday.
Applause broke out in the gallery, and the bill’s main champions, Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, hugged on the Senate floor. Minutes earlier, senators had taken turns approaching the desk of Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, whose voice had trembled as he told of caring for his own son’s medical conditions and announced that, despite misgivings, he would support the bill.
The vote delivers the legislation to the House, whose Republican leadership has expressed skepticism. The bill has a GOP ally in Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery and the caucus secretary, who said Wednesday he will work to bring members on board before the final voting days of the fall.
“I think there’s a chance, but it’s going to take an urgent course of education on what the bill does,” he said.
After the vote, Mr. Leach, standing by parents who had lobbied for the bill, said he was confident House passage would follow.
“You’ve seen how the full-court press has turned something that maybe had six or seven inherent votes into something that wound up with 43 votes on the day of final passage,” he said. “That’s proof that when people hear the realities and see the studies and see the science and talk to the parents, minds will be changed.”
Gov. Tom Corbett continues to oppose the Senate bill, spokesman Jay Pagni said. In May, Mr. Corbett proposed that children’s hospitals in the state conduct studies that would provide cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive component of marijuana, to children with severe seizures.
The proposal that cleared the Senate applies to patients diagnosed with cancer, seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease — multiple sclerosis and several other conditions. Patients would have to obtain a card from the state Department of Health.
They would not be permitted to smoke marijuana, but could use extracted oil, edible products, ointments and tinctures.
The legislation would establish a State Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing, which would be permitted to license up to 65 growers of medical cannabis and 130 dispensers.
Seven of the Senate’s 27 Republicans voted against the bill. Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, said the federal government’s listing of marijuana among the most dangerous drugs will stand in the way of physicians and researchers.
Mr. Mensch opposed the bill Tuesday in committee, saying medical cannabis had not been proven. On Wednesday, he spoke on the Senate floor of the difficult decisions needed to care for his infant son, now 35, and said he would vote with the efforts of other parents struggling to treat their children’s medical conditions. But the proposal still worried him.
“I hear the parents. I know that they want more. I want more,” he said. “I’ll support this, but I don’t know that we’re making the right decision for the parents.”