HARRISBURG - The state Senate on Wednesday passed legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The measure was approved by 43-7, the first time such a proposal has passed either chamber of the legislature. But its fate was uncertain at best.
GOP leaders in the House, where the bill heads next for consideration, have said the federal government, not state government, ought to take the lead on drug policy. And Gov. Corbett has said he is opposed to legalizing marijuana in any form.
The legislation mirrors medical marijuana laws in at least 23 states that require patients seeking access to medical cannabis to first get a doctor's authorization.
"This is going to do a lot of good for a lot of people," said Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), a co-sponsor of the bill.
He said cannabis can bring relief to patients with a wide range of diseases and conditions, including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, and epilepsy.
Opponents said they were reluctant to vote for a bill that would make a narcotic accessible without the support of major medical organizations.
"We need research," said Sen. Pat Vance (R., Cumberland).
Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House GOP leaders, said the bill would be assigned to a committee and at least one hearing would be held. But he could not say if the measure would get to a vote. There are only five session days remaining this year.
If there is no action, the bill would have to be reintroduced when the new session begins in 2015.
Corbett has said he supports a pilot project at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that would use a form of medical cannabis oil to treat children with severe epilepsy.
In other business Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed the "Good Samaritan" bill, which now heads to Corbett. The bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), would give drug users immunity from prosecution on certain drug crimes if they call authorities while they are with someone who has overdosed.
The bill would also provide first responders with Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Family members of addicts would also have access to the drug.
The governor has said he would sign the bill.
Corbett also signed a long-debated bill to change the name of the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services. Proponents of the legislation say it will help erase any stigma associated with the word welfare as well as capture the array of services provided by the department.