Op-ed: Prompt Action is Necessary on Medical Cannabis Proposal

by Senator Chuck McIlhinney

Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman

The Senate Law and Justice Committee recently took the historic step of approving a proposal that would legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes. It is important that every citizen understand that this bill has nothing to do with people smoking cannabis; in fact, the bill would prohibit smoking the substance altogether, instead prescribing the use of cannabis-based oils, pills and other safe delivery methods for those who suffer from certain medical conditions that respond to that course of treatment. While this proposal was originally derided and even openly mocked by some critics, the true intention in passing this bill is very clear and noble – to offer a lifeline to some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

For too long, terse comments and simple-minded caricatures of medical cannabis supporters have replaced any serious discussion of the topic in Pennsylvania. The reality of the situation is far more serious and sobering. Many lawmakers (including myself) have had conversations with parents whose children suffer from devastating disorders that haven’t responded to any other sort of treatment. They wake up every day wondering whether their child will live to see tomorrow. As a parent of two amazing children, my heart aches for their struggle. For many individuals and families, the availability of this medicine may truly mean the difference between life and death.

The urgent nature of this proposal has led members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and other passionate supporters of the proposal to work diligently and persistently to address the single most important concern of serious-minded critics – providing a system of checks and balances to prevent fraud, misuse and abuse. The amended version of Senate Bill 1182 provides oversight at every step of the process, including supervision by the Department of State in terms of growing, processing and dispensing this medicine. The Department of Health also manages the process of patients applying for and receiving a medical cannabis access card, which requires written certification of a qualified illness by a licensed care practitioner. Given all of the layers of protection in this proposal, proper oversight should no longer be a source of concern.

When the Senate Law and Justice Committee first examined this issue earlier this year, we heard testimony from a wide range of individuals and families who would undoubtedly benefit from cannabis treatments, including parents whose children suffered from severe seizure disorders and other potentially lethal diseases. Their willingness to share their struggle with the world has laid the groundwork for the Medical Cannabis Act to earn prompt consideration in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Each day that we delay is another day that sick children and others suffering from catastrophic health conditions are forced to suffer. Now is the time to take the next step to finally end this needless misery by providing the medicine they desperately need.

CONTACT: Heather Cevasco (215) 489-5000