The fight for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will not likely see a quick victory. The House Rules Committee met Wednesday and held a roll call vote on the compassionate cannabis bill that has been stalled for the last six months. It passed 25-8.
The bill passed a full vote in the Senate last May.
All of the Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill and they were joined by 10 Republicans, including Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana).
This set up a major rift between Reed and House Speaker Mike Turzai.
Jan Murphy at PennLive reported that Turzai stormed out of a closed-door caucus meeting trying to urge his GOP party members to oppose medical marijuana. Turzai was "emotionally overwrought" in his frustrated arguments against the bill while Rep. Reed easily articulated his support.
The conflict between the Majority Leader and Speaker could mean bad news for the bill in the House. Advocates have already been concerned at the lack of transparency and slow progress.
Now word has leaked that there may be almost 100 individual floor amendments planned. Some were expected. Most hint at further restrictions to an already limited piece of legislation. Things like caps on THC content, limits of strains of cannabis and fewer dispensaries have been discussed. The bill already prohibits smoking and patients would not likely ever get their hands on whole plant material.
The adding numerous floor amendments is a strategy often employed to kill a bill.
"There is a procedural maneuver for getting around them," said Andy Hoover the legislative director at ACLU-PA, "If the bill is brought up for consideration."
Rep. Reed sets the House calendar but, once there, Turzai will be in the driver's seat. The Speaker controls all of the action on the House floor.
Usually the Pa. House Republicans are in lockstep. So the discord is rare.
A Quinnipiac University poll in October found that an astounding 90 percent of Pennsylvania voters support legalizing medical cannabis.
Some legislators have said the House may take up the bill next week.
But if amendments are tacked on, the bill won't be going to Gov. Wolf's desk anytime soon. It will have to go back to the Senate for concurrence. If there are drastic changes the sponsors, Senators Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), are likely to put up a fight.
This could drag out the process well into 2016. The result may be unfortunate. Pennsylvania may join more than a dozen states with a severely limited medical marijuana law on paper that fails to work for patients in the real world.
Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and on the board of PhillyNorml. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.