On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill 3, making Pennsylvania the 24th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. The law covers a plethora of qualifying medical conditions, from autism to chronic pain and seizures, allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients, and opens the door for commercial grow operations and dispensaries.
However, dried leaf and flower will not be allowed. Pennsylvania law will only permit extracted cannabis oil and its derivatives. The law could take up to two years to fully implement, but its implications for the rest of the nation are vast.
Pennsylvania’s Symbolic Impact
The importance of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana legislation on the rest of the nation cannot be overstated.
Pennsylvania is one of the original 13 colonies, and arguably the most important and influential. Philadelphia played an instrumental role in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787.
Hundreds of years later, in the face of a federal government that unequivocally classifies marijuana as illegal and with “no currently accepted medical use,” Pennsylvania resoundingly proclaimed its independence from a baseless, nonsensical and tyrannical federal law. The people have now spoken from the hallowed soil where the Founding Fathers signed the documents of this nation’s birth.
The Liberty Bell rings again to alert the American citizenry that widespread and comprehensive marijuana legalization is not only inevitable, but it is, as it was some 240 years ago, a declaration of independence. As in 1776, the nation is listening.
While Michigan was markedly ahead of Pennsylvania by legalizing medical marijuana in 2008, it differs dramatically in substance and in practice.
Like Pennsylvania, Michigan provides a wide range of qualifying conditions for its medical marijuana program. But that’s where the similarities end.
Michigan’s law was a public referendum, not a legislative decree. The law was written by well-intentioned marijuana advocates, not experienced lawmakers, leaving many unanswered questions to judicial interpretation. Law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts have been playing catch-up ever since.
State law, as interpreted by the courts, does not permit dispensaries. However, major cities like Detroit have implemented local ordinances to allow dispensaries. As long as the county sheriff and state police look the other way, which they have been doing, it has been smooth sailing locally. Other cities with similar ordinances, like Ferndale in Oakland County, don’t fare as well due to being located in counties where the sheriff strictly enforces state law. Hence, dispensaries in Michigan are dependent on state action.
Based in large part on Pennsylvania’s move, it appears that the Michigan Legislature now has the authority to clean up the mess and enact responsible medical marijuana legislation via House Bills 4209, 4210 and 4827, which will establish legal commercial grow operations, extraction-based infused products and dispensaries — all of which are currently illegal.
The House bills will likely be passed by the Michigan Senate subsequent to the November elections, allowing Governor Rick Snyder to sign them into effect without untimely political ramifications or the uncertainty of the national election.
It is clear that Michigan’s populace favors medical marijuana legalization — 63% voted for it in 2008 — but Pennsylvania’s legislative action gives Michigan legislators the proverbial thumbs up to finish the job started by the people.
Suddenly situated between two highly populated medical marijuana states, Ohio needed to take a step forward or be left behind. In May 2016, just a few short weeks after Pennsylvania’s historic decision, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana for those with a doctor’s referral. In June, Governor John Kasich signed the legislation into law, making Ohio the 25th medical marijuana state.
Like Pennsylvania, Ohio’s law allows a comprehensive list of qualifying conditions and for the medical use of vaporizers, edibles and oils, but not leaf or flower. It also allows for commercial marijuana grows, extraction processing and dispensaries.
Other Eastern States
In many of the other eastern states, qualifying conditions have been severely limited, and restrictions on commercial production and distribution have advanced the responsible implementation and practical application of medical marijuana legalization.
Based on the sheer population of more than 30 million people under the collective umbrella of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, things are going to change.
New York and New Jersey laws are expected to become more sensible to meet their western neighbors; Illinois will also follow the path of its eastern counterparts; Florida is likely to pass a medical marijuana public referendum this fall. Native American tribes throughout the country are already poised to capitalize on state actions with their own grow and processing operations. The DEA is expected to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, thereby opening up banking and health care providers to the industry. Other states will fall in line, and hopefully the federal government will finally wake up to the will of the people and recognize the independence of the states on this issue.
Marc Beginin is chief legal officer of Precision Extraction Solutions. A version of this article was originally published at precisionextraction.com.