In a time when everyone with a smartphone suddenly has an opinion worth broadcasting, oddly it’s easier than ever to feel like your voice is not being heard. This can be especially true when it comes to politics which all too often breeds apathy to the process that discourages voters from exercising their rights, leaving many people mired in a feeling that their vote doesn’t count or doesn’t matter.
The fact is that your vote is your voice in our democratic system and it absolutely matters.
Case in point: In 2005 in a town called Braddock, Pennsylvania with a population hovering just over 2,000 residents, a man named John Fetterman decided to run for the office of mayor and wouldn’t you know it? He won his primary by one vote.
It may have seemed relatively inconsequential in the shadow of Pennsylvania state politics at the time, but that narrowest of victories has made a major difference in the Keystone State in the past 14 years, particularly when it comes to cannabis reform.
SUPPORT IS HIGH
The last time the state’s residents were effectively polled on the question of whether or not to legalize the recreational use of cannabis was 2017 when 59% responded favorably to the idea, while 31% stated their opposition to it.
Even though those numbers are probably even more imbalanced today, that 59% is still roughly 3x higher than the level of support the same idea got from the public back in 2006.
Pennsylvania established the regulatory framework for a new medical marijuana program in 2016, but the application fee alone for those seeking to enter the supply side of the industry was $200,000 and those in the know warned that interested parties should have more like a million or two handy if they hoped to make it through the process.
The program originally only allowed ‘processed’ forms of cannabis, like oils, but the sale and consumption of flower was added in 2018.
Their medical marijuana program expressly bans home growing, an unacceptable concession to any true cannabis reform, especially when it comes to medical marijuana. Many patients live on fixed incomes with very tight budgets for uninsured medication like cannabis. The ability to grow their own and use the entire plant for medical relief is essential and needs to either be amended within the state’s MMJ program, or rectified through recreational legalization.
The clear shift in the public perception of pot, along with the newfound flow of cannabis fee and tax revenues for the state, even have the traditionally anti-cannabis Governor Tom Wolf ready to reconsider his position on the plant.
As recently as November of 2018, when asked about the prospects of adult use legal weed, the gov told local KDKA radio that he did not think that the “citizens of Pennsylvania are ready for it”. Of course, the midterm elections came shortly after that statement and in came the newly appointed Lt. Governor, one John Fetterman. One month later, on December 19th, Gov. Wolf tweeted, “More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, and we need to keep learning from their efforts. Any change would take legislation. But I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.”
The highly influential Lt. Governor is currently on a 67-stop listening tour visiting
with voters in every county in the state specifically on the topic of whether or not they should legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults – a move that experts predict would bring in $580 million annually in additional cannabis-driven revenue.
THE LEFT IS RIGHT ON CANNABIS
The movement seems to be gaining momentum in Pennsylvania and two Democratic Senators (Sen. Daylin Leach & Sen. Sharif Street) have wasted no time in drafting Senate Bill 350, the Adult Use Cannabis Bill, and are now working to drum up support for what appears to be a fairly comprehensive piece of legislation.
If passed, SB 350 would:
- Allow the private use of cannabis by anyone of the age 21 or older
- Allow each household to grow up to six mature cannabis plants
- Automatically expunge past criminal convictions for cannabis-related offenses that involved one ounce or less
- Require prosecutors to drop pending low-level, non-violent cannabis cases
- Commute the sentences of anyone currently behind bars due to a misdemeanor cannabis conviction
- Allow “micro-growers” to sell their excess home grown harvest to processors and dispensaries
- Establish “public consumption lounges” which would be the only designated places for public use of cannabis
- Scale the regulations imposed on cultivators based on the size of their operation
- Establish statewide “cannabis business incubators” that would provide free training to help interested parties get into the industry
- Allow local universities to grow and process cannabis for classes to teach students about “the science and business” behind the plant
- Allocate a majority of cannabis tax revenues to public education and property tax relief
Despite gains in both the House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections, Pennsylvania Democrats like Leach and Street are still in the minority in both chambers and support for cannabis reform on the right side of the political aisle is still somewhere in between non-existent and barely there in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
It’s pretty incredible that in a state currently suffering from a $1.7 billion budget deficit, the so-called fiscal conservatives would continue to leave over a half a billion a year on the table while the rest of the country rakes it in around them.
Speaking out earlier this year in opposition of a different piece of Democrat-backed legislation to legalize weed statewide, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre), blurted, “I will do whatever I can as a leader to not allow it to happen this session. I know public support has moved on this, and that’s certainly understandable. But at the same time, I think the evidence from the states that have done it certainly isn’t compelling. I think we should take a go-slow approach.”
Fence-sitting state lawmakers are also blaming federal prohibition of the plant for their intransigence on the issue, but Fetterman is still pounding the pavement and says the word on the street is that the people want weed, and they want it now.
Unfortunately, there has been no indication so far that Corman and crew intend to budge on this latest legislative effort any more than they have in the past.
Steve Miskin, the Press Secretary for the Republican Leader of the House was recently quoted as saying, “Legalizing marijuana? Why not legalize heroin, why not legalize cocaine?”
GET IN IF YOU FIT IN
As you can see, there is a lot of back-and-forth surrounding full-scale cannabis reform in Pennsylvania so it could still be a while before legal adult use is manifested into law.
If you are curious about medical marijuana and how it may benefit you or someone you love, the process to enter the program is a bit time consuming and there are some costs involved.
The first step is to get a medical marijuana recommendation from a state-certified doctor stating that they believe that the patient suffers from one of the 21 approved medical conditions that can potentially be relieved with cannabis use.
Those qualifying conditions include:
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Crohn’s disease
- Dyskinetic/Spastic movement disorders
- Huntington’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intractable seizures
- Intractable spasticity
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Opioid dependency
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Sickle cell anemia
- Severe chronic or intractable pain
- Terminal illness (defined as 12 months or fewer to live)
If your regular doc happens to be on that list of state-certified healthcare providers, you’re in luck and you may even have your consultation visit covered by your health insurance. If not, booking an appointment with one from the list could set you back anywhere from $50-$500.
With a doctor’s recommendation in hand, you will then apply online for a Patient ID Card at a cost of $50 – your insurance will not cover this cost. You should receive your ID Card in the mail within 7-10 business days from applying.
Once you receive it, you are good to go and visit one of the many storefront dispensaries now open for business. The card is valid for 12 months and can be renewed easily with another visit to your Patient Profile online and another annual payment of $50.
One further consideration that needs to be taken into account when deciding on whether or not to enter the Pennsylvania state medical marijuana program is the issue of gun ownership.
As long as cannabis remains a Schedule I drug strictly prohibited and outlawed by the federal government, your 2nd Amendment rights to own a firearm could be put into jeopardy if you willingly associate with cannabis, even if you use it medicinally, and even if that use is totally legal in your state.
Under the federal 1968 Gun Control Act, if you’re an “unlawful user of, or addicted to marijuana…” you are prohibited from possessing, using, or purchasing a firearm – no exceptions.
Currently, in Pennsylvania, if you register for the medical marijuana program, you will potentially be unable to renew your Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms. Once you are disqualified from legal gun ownership, you have no more than 60 days to sell or otherwise transfer ownership of all of your firearms or else you will be in criminal possession of them.
Similarly, when purchasing a new gun, federal ATF Form 4473 specifically asks if you are an “unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana…” If you answer “Yes”, you can use your request for BB gun target practice, since that’s the only heat you’ll be packing. If you do consume cannabis, for any reason whatsoever, and you answer “No”, your registration on file with the state MMJ program could rat you out.
“Whether you cross state lines or not, it would be a violation of federal law for you to be in possession of the gun if you are a user of marijuana,” said a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF).
This is not just a Pennsylvania problem – medical marijuana patients across the country are being forced to choose between effective medication and their constitutional right to bear arms.
To us, this is a core issue along with foundational planks like expungement, home growing, social equity, consumption rights, supply chain diversity, and employment protection that all need to be addressed in any honest attempt at comprehensive cannabis reform.
Beard Bros. Pharms’ and Sky Blue Vapor have deep roots in the rebellion, liberty, and independence that Pennsylvania was founded upon and we are all watching eagerly as our home state finally comes around on cannabis.
Additional information about the Pennsylvania state medical marijuana program – including registration details, frequently asked questions, and more – can be found HERE