It appears that the Pennsylvania House is a black hole. It is a place where sensible policy goes to die, and it’s latest legislative victim appears to be Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law, Senate Bill 3.
Since November, House Republicans have attached most of the 197 amendments to the bill, which have been obtained by the Raging Chicken Press.
Throughout 2015, we have covered the medical marijuana issue and the roadblocks impeding the legislation. The bill was stalled in the House Health Committee which is chaired by State Representative Matt Baker, who has received tens of thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical companies. The bill sat in Baker’s committee until there was a confrontation between House Speaker Mike Turzai and Majority Leader David Reed over bill. It was reported that Mike Turzai left the caucus meeting in inaudible tears because David Reed wanted to bring the bill up for a vote in the House Rules Committee and send it to the floor.
When the bill made it out of committee, it was bogged down with close to 100 amendments. One of the amendments in particular would limit treatment for those suffering from PTSD to military veterans who were in active combat; excluding those who suffered from sexual or traumatic abuse or other life altering experiences that would bring the onset of PTSD. That amendment is still attached to the bill.
While the budget debate was reaching it’s boiling point in early December, medical marijuana activists had established an impromptu waiting room outside the Majority Caucus Room. According to some of the activists I’ve talked to during that period, there was a rumor that going around that House Speaker Mike Turzai instructed some of the bill’s most strident opponents to load the bill up with more amendments. The bill has widespread bi-partisan support throughout the Commonwealth and within the General Assembly. Details about the plan to sink the bill with amendments leaked out of the Caucus Room, wondered it’s way across the hall and fell into the laps of the parents who have children with Dravet’s Syndrome. Why? For pure political pettiness and retribution aimed at the protesters who have been in the waiting room on a daily basis since of November.
On December 1st and 2nd, State Representative Matt Baker filed 34 amendments to Senate Bill 3.
The amendments cover a wide range of topics. Some of them are admittedly sensible provisions. It would prohibit patients operating heavy machinery or a public transit vehicles or – get this – a nuclear power plant showing up to work with a buzz. Those who were convicted of a felony drug offense will also be excluded from receiving medical marijuana.
There are plenty of amendments designed to prohibit the following treatment mechanisms – such as whole plant, vaporization or edibles – and designed to kill the legislation in July 2015 or force reenactment votes four or five years after the legislation is passed.
One amendment in particular would change the “medical use of cannabis in the Commonwealth” to “statewide expanded access clinical trials for cannabinoids.” This amendment would strike the whole bill and restrict access to 5 “qualifying medical condition[s],” which include: cancer, HIV/AIDS, wasting syndrome, multiple sclerosis and intractable epilepsy.
Are some of these amendments nessecary? Sure. But as one State Representative described, “this is all a game to them, and it’s zero sum.” Like the agreed upon budget framework, there is a majority of Representatives waiting to pass this bill, but it is being bogged down by frivolous amendments by those who don’t want to see it become law.