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PA bill to legalize medical marijuana named after former Republican governor

If adopted, the program would be less restrictive than New Jersey's.

State Sens. Mike Folmer and Daylin Leach
State Sens. Mike Folmer and Daylin LeachRead more

A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, named after a former Republican governor, was introduced Tuesday in Harrisburg with bi-partisan support.

The "Governor Raymond Shafer Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act," sponsored by Senators Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), was immediately referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee. A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28.

Shafer was appointed by President Nixon in 1970 to oversee a commission looking at marijuana use.  His 1972 report,  "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding" recommended that cannabis not be included under the controlled substance act and called for the decriminalization of possession by adults. Nixon ignored the recommendations.

In recent years, 21 states have permitted medical professionals to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients they believe could benefit. Cannabis has been used to treat epilepsy, nausea, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the symptoms produced cancer and HIV.

According to a 2010 poll, more than 80 percent of Keystone State voters favor legalizing medical marijuana.

As introduced, the Pennsylvania proposal has fewer restrictions than New Jersey's medical marijuana program. There would be no limit set on levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and no limit on the number of strains that could be cultivated or prescribed. The prescribed materials could include dried cannabis flowers, cannabis concentrate or cannabis-infused products such as extracts, lozenges, liquids or lollipops. Registration process would be easier for patients and the program would recognize out-of-state prescriptions.

"The entire process – from the growth of plants to the administration of the medicine to the patient – would be regulated and overseen by the Departments of Health and Agriculture," Leach and Folmer wrote in a statement. " They will independently verify the system is secure and closed to those not in dire medical need."

"It's vital that this legislation move forward right now so that seriously ill patients aren't' forced to move away to get access to something they should have right here at home," said Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for Philly NORML and a contributor to "The committee meeting scheduled so soon has many patients excited and relieved that some of their concerns will be heard."