A Pennsylvania Senate panel has given its approval to three bills to ease restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana operators and improve access to medical cannabis for patients. The three bills, which were all approved by the Senate Law & Justice Committee late last month, now advance to the full Senate for consideration.

The first bill from Republican Senator Mike Regan, the chair of the committee, would make significant changes to the state’s regulation of medical marijuana, which was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2016. The measure, Senate Bill 835, would eliminate the state’s list of 24 serious medical conditions that qualify a patient to use medical marijuana. Instead, doctors would be permitted to recommend medical cannabis to a patient for any medical condition that might be helped by its use. The bill also eliminates expiration dates on medical marijuana identification cards, a move that the sponsor of the legislation says will remove a cost barrier that prevents some patients from taking advantage of the state’s medical cannabis program.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce restrictions on medical marijuana organizations and to reduce the cost and burden on patients through such efforts as eliminating the expiration of medical ID cards and the list of serious medical conditions,” Regan said during the committee meeting. “Nowhere do we dictate to doctors what conditions a patient must have for them to prescribe medication.”

Regan’s bill would also allow patients to use medical cannabis in inhalable and edible products. Currently, medical marijuana is available for use by pill, oil, topical creams and ointments, tincture liquids and forms that are medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization. Herbal forms of cannabis are not available through the current program.

A separate bill from Republican Senator Dan Laughlin, Senate Bill 538, would also legalize cannabis edibles for use by medical marijuana patients. The bill also requires edibles to be tested for safety and potency and includes provisions that prohibit packaging that is attractive to children. Laughlin said he was prompted to draft the legislation after learning that residents of his district were visiting a nearby Indian reservation in New York to purchase marijuana edibles.

“Constituents drive up there and, quite frankly, I don’t know who’s manufacturing those products. I don’t know if they’re being tested for potency or anything really,” Laughlin said. “From my standpoint, passing a bill like this is not only convenience for my medical patients who live in my district but also for their safety.”

Another bill from Republican Sen. Chris Gebhard, Senate Bill 773, would provide additional medical cannabis dispensary permits for licensed independent grower processors. According to information from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, more than 150 medical marijuana dispensaries are currently supplying medicinal cannabis products to patients. But most of those businesses are located near large cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Scranton, leaving patients in the central and northern parts of the state with little access to regulated cannabis.

The proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program received bipartisan support in the Senate Law & Justice Committee, with Gephard’s bill receiving unanimous approval and the bills from Laughlin and Regan advancing by votes of 10-1. Senator James Brewster, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that he thinks the measures “makes us more attractive in terms of being available to constituents that are in need of this product.”

Republican Senator Judy Ward, the lone dissenter, voted via proxy and was unavailable for comment, according to media reports. The bills were also opposed by the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative-leaning policy center based in Harrisburg.

“No matter what the proposed changes are to the medical program, we all should be reminded that today’s marijuana includes dangerously high potency and we’re seeing increased harm with its use, especially among minors and young adults,” said Dan Bartkowiak, a spokesman for the group. “Sadly, there are some lawmakers who believe marijuana use is harmless, which simply is false.”

Recreational Weed Legalization Bill Introduced

The bills to reform Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program are not the only cannabis-related measures currently being considered by state lawmakers. Last week, a bipartisan pair of state senators introduced legislation to legalize recreational weed in Pennsylvania. The bill, from Laughlin and Democratic Senator Sharif Street, would legalize cannabis for all adults aged 21 and older.

“Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity,” Laughlin said in a statement about the bill. “With neighboring states New Jersey and New York implementing adult use, we have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult-use marijuana to avoid losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs.”

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