Pa. lawmakers ready bipartisan home-grow bill for medical marijuana users | Friday Morning Coffee

The bill sponsored by Sens. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia and Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, aims to address disparities in accessibility

November 19, 2021 7:13 am

George Armstrong, a veteran and medical marijuana recipient shares his experiences. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers who already were leading the push for legalized recreational marijuana are expanding that crusade with a long-sought bill that would allow medical marijuana users to grow their own cannabis at home.

In a Thursday memo seeking co-sponsors for their proposalSens. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, will address disparities in cost and access to what is a life-saving medication for scores of the commonwealth’s residents. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2016, the Capital-Star previously reported.

“The [Pennsylvania] Department of Health indicated that patients in some counties must travel more than two hours in order to reach a dispensary,” the two lawmakers wrote. “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.”

In their co-sponsorship memo, Street and Laughlin say their bill would allow medical marijuana users to grow “a limited number of cannabis plants” for their personal use.

In a statement, Laughlin, citing data compiled by the Marijuana Policy Project, said that 15 of the 19 states that have legalized adult-use cannabis, and about half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana, have allowed for home cultivation.

Those states have enacted that Laughlin described as “reasonable safeguards,” including limiting the number of plants in each household, and requiring that they be secure and kept out of public view. And, in those instance, he added, “home cultivation of cannabis simply hasn’t been a problem. No state has repealed home cultivation, and there has never been a serious push to do so.

“It is critical that policy meet people where they are, and by allowing medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis plants at home, we can help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine,” Laughlina likely 2022 Republican candidate for governor, said. “This legislation would go a long way towards helping everyday Pennsylvanians meet their health needs and ensuring everyone is treated equitably and fairly under [the state’s medical marijuana law.”

In this undated photo, state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia (at podium) speaks during an event in the state Capitol rotunda (Capital-Star file).

In FebruaryStreet and Laughlin first began seeking support for legislation legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana. The legislation is currently parked in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

Last month, the Senate panel’s chairperson, Sen. Mike Regan, R-Yorkrolled out his own legalization billRegan’s proposal calls for using the proceeds from legalized cannabis to underwrite the Pennsylvania State Police and to fund community programs.

“For decades, marijuana has been used by adult residents in the state, but such use has financially benefitted and perpetuated organized crime, gangs, and cartels,” Regan wrote in a memo asking colleagues for their support. “The street-level marijuana sold by these organizations is often laced with illicit drugs and toxic additives, and these criminals have been responsible for violence, mayhem, and murder across our state and country.”

While they overlap in some places, the two proposals differ in several ways, notably in matters of criminal justice reform.

The bill backed by Laughlin and Street would provide for the expungement of non-violent convictions for medical marijuana patients and those with non-violent marijuana convictions.

Civil rights advocates and criminal justice reform advocates have pushed for the language, pointing to racial and ethnic disparities in marijuana convictions, and the long-term damage that a minor conviction can inflict on someone’s economic and educational future.

Regan’s bill is silent on matters of criminal justice reform, and expungement, though the central Pennsylvania lawmaker does note that, as a former U.S Marshal, “I had the opportunity to work in federal law enforcement at the height of the drug war, so I know the seriousness of drug use.”

But, he added, “I am also cognizant that there has been a significant decline in arrests and prosecutions for personal use amounts of marijuana in recent years,” and that law enforcement’s time could be better spent “protecting our residents from the violent criminals and large-scale drug importers that are also dealing in heroin and fentanyl, which kill thousands of Pennsylvanians each year.”

In an email, Jeffrey Riedy, the executive director of the Lehigh Valley branch of pro-legalization group, NORML, welcomed Laughlin’s and Street’s home-grow bill.

“It is not at all surprising that Senators Street and Laughlin have chosen to tackle home cultivation for patients. Over the past year, we have been working with their offices on language for statewide legalization, and home cultivation has been a priority among advocates, as well as patients of the Medical Marijuana program,” Riedy wrote. “As a matter of fact, Senator Street made a failed attempt to add a home cultivation amendment to recent legislation (HB1024) that added provisions to Act 16.

“This new standalone legislation exemplifies Laughlin’s and Street’s commitment to repairing the injustices of prohibition, while readdressing the shortcomings of Act 16,” he continued. “Home cultivation for patients is one simple way to ease the burden for current patients financially, while ensuring access to safe, reliable medicines”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

You can expect some progress in 2022, but it might take years before Pennsylvania communities feel the full benefit of the federal infrastructure lawU.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said Thursday. Marley Parish has the details.

Two of the top officials at Pennsylvania’s $66 billion teachers pension fund are stepping down next month, creating sudden openings to lead the troubled fund, Stephen Caruso reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf has come out against a bill that would treat non-profit bail funds, which are community-based, the same way as the for-profit behemoths that make billions of dollars getting desperate people out of jail. Stephen Caruso has the story.

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12th District, joined by scores of his fellow Republicans, is pushing a resolution that would undo the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for businesses, I report.

Pennsylvania’s Capitol Hill Republicans joined with their colleagues to vote against censuring U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., over a web video threatening the lives of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and President Joe BidenCapital-Star Washington Reporters Jacob Fischler and Ariana Figueroa report.

Philadelphia-area pastors traveled to Georgia on Thursday in a mass show of support for the family of Ahmaud Arbery, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, James Byrd, an incarcerated person who served three years in solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail, talks about his experience. And Marc Stier, of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, says the state can look to a clean, electric vehicle future, if policymakers show the leadership.

En la Estrella-Capital: El mandato de la mascarilla de Pensilvania debe expirar en diciembre, dice el juez de la corte estatal. Y el senador Republicano de Pa. Jake Corman entra oficialmente en la carrera de gobernador del 2022.

Sen. Pat Toomey. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)


U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has joined the chorus of GOP voices trying to paint the Biden administration’s pick for a key banking regulator post as too radical, the Inquirer reports.

The Post-Gazette looks at what will happen to students’ expenses as six, state-owned universities merge.

State Senate Republicans have found their vendor for a partisan election probePennLive reports.

LancasterOnline looks at the contrasting impacts that the global supply chain mess has had on two area companies.

Four people are dead, including two children, in the manhunt for an ex-cop accused of kidnapping his kids, the York Dispatch reports.

The Morning Call rounds up local reaction to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would embed the right to refuse vaccines.

The Times-Tribune has the latest on community reaction to Scranton’s teachers strike (paywall).

Four teens face charges of ethnic intimidation for attacking Asian classmates on SEPTAWHYY-FM reports.

In Centre County, officials at Penn Highlands Healthcare say about a third of their employees still need to get vaccinated to comply with the Biden administration’s mandate, WPSU-FM reports.

Maryland and Massachusetts, soon to be followed by other states, are allowing people to start signing up for healthcare coverage by checking a box on their tax reports.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCartthy, R-Calif., says U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.will be reinstated to their committee posts if the GOP retakes the majority next year, Talking Points Memo reports.

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What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, holds an ‘All About Health‘ breakfast at 8 a.m. at the Blue Brook Cafe in Philadelphia. Admission runs $100 to $500.

Gov. Tom Wolf holds an 11 a.m. newser in Philadelphia, where he’s set to announce ‘legislation to support workers, improve wages and benefits.’

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Harrisburg PR guy Mike Barley, and to Angela Couloumbis, of Spotlight PA, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, friends.

Heavy Rotation
We’ll go out this morning with an old favorite from Noah and the Whale. Here’s the wondrous and wide-eyed ‘Give it All Back.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
In their only face-off of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes snapped the Anaheim Ducks’ eight-game winning streak on Thursday night, winning 2-1 in a late game on the coast. The ‘Canes are now an astonishing 13-2.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.