Marijuana Plant
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Pennsylvania state senators who championed medical marijuana hopeful program will be running by Valentine’s Day 2018

They’re also not super worried about the feds.

Sarah Anne Hughes

The two state senators who championed medical marijuana in Pennsylvania are hopeful the program will be up and running by Valentine’s Day 2018.

That’s when Sen. Daylin Leach believes the first patients will be able to get cannabis from the state’s yet-to-open dispensaries, he said Friday afternoon at a medical marijuana conference in Pittsburgh. Leach and Sen. Mike Folmer emphasized that there’s no firm timeline, as growers and processors will still have to, well, grow and process cannabis after they receive licenses.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed the state’s medical marijuana bill into law on April 17 of last year. It allows physicians who undergo four hours of training to prescribe cannabis to patients with 17 conditions including pain. The Department of Health will issue up to 27 permits for dispensaries during the first phase of rollout, meaning 150 dispensaries will be able to operate statewide in different zones. The state will also issue up to 12 permits for growers and processors initially. Applications closed at the end of March, and the state should award licenses at the end of June, the senators said.

Competition for those licenses is fierce. When asked about ensuring diversity in the industry, Leach said applicants can gain points for being a minority or woman, for example. But both Leach and Folmer stressed that there’s no special way to obtain one. Even Wolf has a best friend who is applying, Leach said, but the governor can’t — and won’t — do anything to help.

Even though the medical program isn’t up and running yet, Friday’s conversation turned to what’s next — namely, recreational pot.

Folmer, a Republican from Central Pa., said he’s not against legalization, but added that he can’t be at the front of this issue because of the promises he had to make to his caucus to get medical marijuana passed.

“It wasn’t an easy battle,” he said, adding that he was accused by other members of his caucus of trying to open the door to legalized pot.

What Republicans need to see, Folmer said, is that the world won’t end when medical marijuana goes into effect. “Dogs won’t sleep with cats,” he said.

Leach, a Philadelphia Democrat who has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, didn’t fault Folmer, saying the medical marijuana bill wouldn’t have gotten passed without support from Republicans. But a Republican will need to come forward, he said, in order for legalization to happen.

“I’m less forgiving of the position of the people like the Republican senator who said to me they hope legalization will pass so they can smoke on their porch instead of in their living room,” Leach said.

“If this was a secret ballot, it would pass now,” Leach said as Folmer nodded.

Folmer and Leach said they are happy with the law they ended up with, even if they did have to compromise. They cautioned against trying to amend the law now, as there are still people in the legislature against it who could offer up harmful amendments.

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals a return to the war on drugs, Folmer said he is concerned that the federal government will try to interfere with state’s marijuana efforts. But if they did, “they’d be stupid,” he said. “Especially on medical to come in and interfere, that would just be dumb.”

Leach pointed out that 61 percent of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana.

“The optics of going after medical marijuana are so politically bad at this point,” he said, especially after the law is fully implemented. “It becomes very difficult to go back and tell cancer patients, ‘We’re taking your medication.'”

Even more than calling your legislators, the senators said the most important thing marijuana supporters can do is educate their family and friends about their position.

“We have to continue to educate, educate, educate on this issue,” Folmer said.