Gov. Tom Wolf has raised concerns about the future of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program as Congress fights over funding U.S. Justice Department efforts to thwart such initiatives.
Republican congressional leaders on Wednesday appeared headed to block a vote by the full House on an amendment denying the Justice Department funding to crack down on the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use despite federal laws outlawing the drug.
Wolf urged lawmakers to support the amendment by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), that would prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws.
It was not immediately clear how federal opposition might affect Pennsylvania’s program — or how quickly — and a Wolf spokesman could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
There are those, meanwhile, who feel legalization in Pennsylvania should go even further.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been advocating for legalization of recreational marijuana, a step he believes could raise $200 million for the cash-strapped state.
DePasquale reiterated that call in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed Thursday morning.
Wolf: Feds would cause suffering
Wolf said disrupting medical marijuana programs would cause suffering for patients.
“Twenty-nine states have passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana and there is broad support among the medical community of its benefits,” said Wolf, who signed Pennsylvania’s program into law in 2016. It is expected to go into operation next year.
“Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems intent on impeding those suffering, including children and veterans, from getting the relief that is available to them,” Wolf said.
The U.S. government disagrees.
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, meaning the Justice Department deems it to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
The Obama administration opted not to challenge states so long as they established regulatory guidelines for cannabis sale and distribution; growers, sellers and users who respected the regulations would not face prosecution.
But Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions remains an opponent of marijuana use who has signaled that he wants to curtail the spread of legalization, even after a panel of experts he convened suggested maintaining the current compromise between Washington and the states.
In addition to medical marijuana programs, seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws legalizing recreational use of the drug, while other jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, have decriminalized possession of small amounts.
In his letter to Congress, Wolf outlined state action taken so far to implement Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program, including the issuance of permits to 27 entities for dispensaries and 12 entities for grower/processers, and progress on creating regulations.
He underscored the bipartisan nature of Pennsylvania’s program, as well as evidence that it will benefit patients suffering from numerous conditions.
“Republicans and Democrats came together in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to send the legislation legalizing medical marijuana to my desk,” Wolf said. “We met with families who told stories of their children’s suffering and how medical marijuana offered them possibilities that were never there before.”
“Failure to pass this amendment will force more suffering on some of our most vulnerable constituents,” Wolf added.