Cohen: Medical marijuana bill ‘positive step for Pennsylvania’

State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd dist.) is happy that Pennsylvania is about to join 23 other states in legalizing medical marijuana.

The House of Representatives last week approved a bill, 149–43, allowing people with debilitating diseases to use marijuana in pill, oil or ointment form. They would not be permitted to smoke marijuana.

The Senate will likely approve the bill, and Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign it.

“It’s on its way to becoming law,” Cohen said.

Cohen introduced bills in 2009, ’11, ’13 and ’15 that were similar to the legislation that passed.

“This is a positive step for Pennsylvania health care,” he said. “This is a major healthcare initiative. Medical marijuana can help with a variety of conditions. It will benefit individuals in pain.”

Cohen joined fellow local Reps. Tom Murt, Martina White, Mike Driscoll, Ed Neilson, John Taylor, Jason Dawkins and Dwight Evans in voting for the bill.

Rep. Kevin Boyle, who is running for state Senate, did not vote.

“The need for this medicine has been great and the inability to acquire it has caused real pain throughout this commonwealth,” Neilson said. “I have heard of multiple families moving out of Pennsylvania to a state that allows medical marijuana simply to ensure a child or other loved one has access to the medicine. Patients shouldn’t be forced to decide between the medicine they need and breaking the law, and when this bill is signed into law they won’t have to.”

Under the bill, authorized doctors would be able to prescribe medical marijuana for the following conditions: intractable seizures, cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, Huntingdon’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, autism and neuropathic pain and certain spinal cord injuries.

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Meanwhile, the House last week passed a supplemental budget bill, 128–63, that Gov. Wolf is threatening to veto because he does not believe it addresses the state’s long-term fiscal situation. House Bill 1801 would fund state services through June 30, including portions of the budget vetoed in December by Wolf.

The supplemental budget would complete the 2015–16 budget by providing an $872.6 million increase over the 2014–15 budget.

Republican Reps. Tom Murt, Martina White and John Taylor voted in favor of the bill.

“This supplemental budget bill not only restores funding vetoed by the governor in December, but it raises funding for basic education and does so without raising taxes,” White said.

Thirteen Democrats voted for the budget, though local Democratic Reps. Mike Driscoll, Ed Neilson, Jason Dawkins, Mark Cohen and Dwight Evans opposed the bill.

Democratic Rep. Kevin Boyle did not vote.

In December of last year, the General Assembly passed the 2015–2016 budget, but Wolf vetoed more than $6 billion in funding from that budget.

The supplemental budget includes an $872.6 million increase over the 2014–15 budget. Basic education will see $5.93 billion in funding, an increase of $200 million over 2014–15.

The supplemental budget also reverses the governor’s vetoes of tens of millions of dollars in funding for higher education. It also give a 5-percent increase to Penn State, Temple, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University.

“This is an important supplemental budget bill that would allow us to fund the programs vetoed by the governor last year,” Murt said. “Altogether, this budget would add $200 million in new money for basic education and the Ready-To-Learn Block Grant program. It also would fund the social service agencies that have been operating without money or by taking loans. That cannot continue.” ••