Bipartisan Pennsylvania senators have introduced a bill that would expand the state’s medical cannabis program by giving patients 21 and older the right to grow their own plants for personal use.
The legislation, filed on Thursday by Sens. Sharif Street (D) and Dan Laughlin (R), along with six other senators, would allow registered patients to cultivate up to six cannabis plants.
Medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to sell cannabis seeds to patients, wh0 could then grow them in their own residence in an enclosed and locked location that’s outside of “ordinary” public view.
If a person doesn’t own their property, they would need to receive permission from the owner to grow marijuana.
The bill, which has been referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee, doesn’t appear to set limits on the total number of plants that a household with more than one registered medical cannabis patient could have.
“Since the passage of Act 16 in 2016, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana (MMJ) program has offered lifesaving medicine to communities across the Commonwealth,” the two senators wrote in a memo seeking cosponsors for the new bill. “However, there are still inefficiencies around MMJ that are well known, especially as it relates to cost and access.”
“The PA Department of Health indicated that patients in some counties must travel more than two hours in order to reach a dispensary,” they said. “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.”
“It is critical that policy meet people where they are. 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 Act 16.”
An individual who cultivates more than the allowable number of plants under the bill, or who gives away plants or cannabis products, would be subject to penalties, including the loss of their home grow rights.
Street and Laughlin also recently unveiled a separate bill to legalize marijuana for adult use.
The two senators previously sponsored a legalization bill that was not ultimately enacted last session, but they say that the newly filed proposal represents a significant improvement that they hope to advance.
In a co-sponsorship memo seeking support for the legalization legislation from colleagues, the senators emphasized that polling shows adult-use legalization “is supported by two-thirds of Pennsylvanians and has majority support in rural, suburban, and urban legislative districts.”
They also pointed out that legalization is estimated to bring in $400 million to $1 billion in tax revenue to the state.
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Meanwhile, in May, Pennsylvania House lawmakers filed separate bills to legalize marijuana sales through state-run stores and to provide permits for farmers and small agriculture businesses to cultivate cannabis once adult-use sales are allowed.
Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) supports enacting cannabis reform and proposed to legalize and tax adult-use marijuana as part of his 2023-2024 budget request in March.
The prospects of enacting legalization increased in the Keystone State after Democrats took control of the House following last year’s election. Republicans have maintained control of the Senate, however, but there are certain GOP members like Laughlin and Sen. Mike Regan (R) who’ve backed reform.
In February, Laughlin also sent a letter to state law enforcement, urging officials to take steps to protect gun rights for cannabis consumers, particularly medical marijuana patients, in light of a federal court’s recent ruling on the issue.
Street, who is sponsoring the newly filed legalization bill, took some advocates by surprise recently by joining other senators in urging a federal court not to authorize an overdose prevention site site in Philadelphia, while supporting a proposal to ban the harm reduction centers statewide.
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