The National Impact of Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Legislation

Located in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell is an iconic symbol of American independence.

The modern image of the Liberty Bell as symbol of American independence was substantially fashioned by writer George Lippard. On January 2, 1847, his story “Fourth of July, 1776” appeared in Saturday Review magazine. The short story depicted an aged bellman on July 4, 1776, sitting glumly by the bell, concerned that Congress would not have the courage to declare independence. The story closely linked the Liberty Bell to the Declaration of Independence in the public mind and is indelibly attached to the American ethos.*

Then, of course, Congress declared independence from the British Empire, the old man rang the bell and the war was on.

Once again, our Pennsylvania brethren have stepped up to declare independence. This time it was a declaration of independence from the shackles of collective ignorance, from Big Pharma, from federal overreaching into state rights, from the careless and irresponsible incarceration of a mass of the American public, to bravely move this nation forward.

On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill 3 (SB3), which made Pennsylvania the 24th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. The law covers a plethora of qualifying medical conditions from autism to chronic pain and seizures, and allows for large commercial grows and dispensaries for distribution.

SB3 will allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients with qualifying conditions in pill, oil, ointment form, or a liquid form that can be vaporized and inhaled. Dried leaf and flower will not be allowed. In other words, Pennsylvania law will only allow extracted cannabis oil and its derivatives.

While the law will take 18 – 24 months to fully implement, its implications for the rest of the nation are vast.

While the “Wild West” states have led the charge of marijuana legalization, the eastern states have been slow on the take. Thanks to the wisdom of the Pennsylvania legislature and executive, this is poised to change, and soon.

Pennsylvania’s Symbolic Impact

The symbolic import of Pennsylvania’s legislation on the rest of the nation cannot be overstated.

Pennsylvania is one of original 13 colonies, and arguably the most important and influential. Philadelphia played an instrumental role in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. Philadelphia was one of the nation’s capitals during the Revolutionary War, and served as temporary U.S. capital while Washington, D.C., was under construction.**

Hundreds of years later, in the face of a federal government that unequivocally classifies marijuana as illegal and with with “no currently accepted medical use”, the great people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania resoundingly proclaimed their independence from a baseless, nonsensical and tyrannical federal law. The people have now spoken from the hallowed soil where the founding fathers signed the documents of this nation’s birth.

Now the Liberty Bell rings again to alert the American citizenry that widespread and comprehensive marijuana legalization is not only inevitable but it is, as it was some 240 years ago, a declaration of independence. As in 1776, the nation is listening.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – The United States Declaration of Independence (Preamble Excerpt)

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. – The United States Declaration of Independence (Preamble Excerpt)

Michigan

While Michigan, with its 2008 medical marijuana legalization, was markedly ahead of Pennsylvania in time, it differs dramatically on substance and in practice.

Michigan, like Pennsylvania, provides a wide range of qualifying conditions for its medical marijuana program. And that’s where the similarities end.

Michigan’s law was a public referendum, not a legislature induced decree. The law was written by well-intentioned marijuana advocates, not experienced law makers, leaving many unanswered questions to judicial interpretation. Law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts have been playing catch-up ever since.

While state law, as interpreted by the courts, has categorically interpreted the law to not allow for dispensaries, major cities like Detroit, situated in Wayne County, has implemented local ordinances to allow for dispensaries. So long as the county sheriff and state police turn their heads, which they do, it is smooth sailing locally. Other cities with similar ordinances, like Ferndale in Oakland County, don’t fare as well due to being situated in counties where the sheriff strictly enforces state law. Hence dispensaries in Michigan are, for the populace as a whole, dependent on state action.

Based in large part on Pennsylvania’s move, it appears that the Michigan legislature now has the moral authority to clean up the mess and enact responsible medical marijuana legislation via House Bills HB 4209, HB 4210 and HB 4827, which will establish legal commercial grow operations, extraction-based infused products and dispensaries. All of which are currently illegal per court interpreted state law.

The House Bills will be likely be passed by the Michigan Senate subsequent to the November 8, 2016 elections, during the lame duck session, allowing for the Governor Snyder to sign them into effect without untimely political ramifications or uncertainties of the national elections.

While it is clear that Michigan’s populace is heavily in favor of medical marijuana legalization (63% voted for it in 2008), Pennsylvania’s legislative action gives Michigan legislators the proverbial thumbs up to finish the job started by the people.

Ohio

Suddenly crammed between two highly populated medical marijuana states, Ohio needed to take a step forward or be left behind. In May 2016, just a few short weeks after Pennsylvania’s historic decision, Ohio state lawmakers passed a plan to legalize medical marijuana for those with a doctor’s referral. On June 8, 2016, Governor Kasich signed the legislation into law, making Ohio America’s 25th medical marijuana state.

Like Pennsylvania, Ohio’s law allows for a comprehensive list of qualifying conditions and for the medical use of vaporizers, edibles and oils, but not leaf or flower. It also allows for commercial marijuana grows, extraction processing and dispensaries.

Other Eastern States

Unlike the law as passed in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the evolving law in Michigan, other eastern states have limited qualifying conditions or other restrictions on commercial production and distribution that don’t work well to advance the responsible implementation and practical application of medical marijuana legalization.

Moving Forward

Based on the sheer population of over 30 million people under the collective umbrella of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, things are going to change.

New York and New Jersey law will become more sensible to meet that of its western neighbors, as will Illinois meet eye-to-eye with its eastern counterparts. Florida will likely pass a medical marijuana public referendum this fall. Georgia will rouse to what’s happening to its north and south. Native American tribes are already poised to capitalize on state actions via their own grow and processing operations. The DEA will soon reschedule marijuana off the Schedule 1 list of controlled substances, thereby opening up banking and health providers to the industry. Thereafter other states will fall in line and the federal government will, finally, wake up to the will of the people and recognize the independence of the states on this issue.

Thank you Pennsylvania, for once again ringing the Liberty Bell.

– By Marc Beginin, Chief Legal Officer of Precision Extraction Solutions


In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. – The United States Declaration of Independence (Introduction)

*Kimball, David (2006). The Story of the Liberty Bell (revised ed.). Washington, DC: Eastern National (National Park Service), p. 56. ISBN 0-915992-43-4.

**Brookes, Karin (2005). Zoë Ross, ed. Insight Guides: Philadelphia and Surroundings (Second Edition (Updated) ed.). APA Publications. pp. 21–22. ISBN 1-58573-026-2.