HARRISBURG, Pa. (Sept. 25, 2023) – Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program by allowing growers to sell directly to patients despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Chris Gebhard and a bipartisan coalition of senators introduced Senate Bill 773 (SB773) earlier this year. The current state medical law authorizes licenses for 25 businesses growing and processing medical marijuana, but only five of those licensees can sell directly to patients through vertically integrated dispensaries. SB773 would allow all medical marijuana growers and processes to sell directly to patients.
On Sept. 20, the Senate passed SB773 by a 44-3 vote.
Passage of SB773 would expand the state’s medical marijuana market and further nullify federal cannabis prohibition in practice and effect.
There is speculation that House leadership may use the bill as a vehicle for additional reforms, from allowing patients to grow marijuana at home to converting the legislation it into a bill to legalize full adult use of marijuana.
“There will certainly be vigorous discussions there on what shape this bill will come back to the Senate in,” Sen. Dan Laughlin (R), said. “If this becomes a vehicle for adult use, I doubt that it would pass this chamber. However, I think if they do add home-grown to this bill, it would strengthen the bill and I believe that we would be able to get it through this chamber as well.”
Laughlin is one of a handful of Republicans to push for marijuana legalization in past legislative sessions. The GOP controls the Pennsylvania Senate while Democrats control the House.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of medical marijuana removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Providing tax relief for marijuana businesses in Connecticut will help further expand the market and make it that much more difficult for the feds to enforce cannabis prohibition.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November 2022, and Delaware joining in 2023, there are now 38 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 23 legalizing it for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
The introduction of SB773 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they are limited in scope. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
SB773 now moves to the House. It was referred to the House Health Committee where it must get a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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