Pa. Senate passes bill allowing more medical cannabis growers to sell directly to patients

Penn Live reports

The Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow all of the state’s medical marijuana growers and processors to sell their products directly to patients, with several senators speculating that the bill could – and should – become a vehicle for further opening up the commonwealth’s marijuana laws.

Senate Bill 773, which won wide bipartisan approval 44-3, specifies that all licensed cannabis grower-processors in Pennsylvania also be issued dispensary permits, allowing them to retail their products directly to medical marijuana patients.

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act, enacted in 2016, currently specifies that no more than five of the state’s 25 grower/processor license holders be allowed to also act as dispensaries.

The remainder must sell their products to a retail dispensary which acts as a middleman – but that system has grown into a near-monopoly, according to lawmakers, creating an imbalance which the bill aims to correct.

Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis system is dominated by “just a few corporations who control the vast majority of the retail market,” said Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Delaware County, and independent growers must “sell to the corporate buyers on their terms, or you close your shop.”

Senate Majority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, similarly described a “monopoly-type situation with out-of-state, multi-state organizations coming in to the detriment of these independent grower-processors,” that and allowing all grower-processors to sell directly would help combat market concentration.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Gebhard, R-Lebanon County, will head to the House where some lawmakers suggested that additional measures could or should be added in.

This may include allowing patients to grow a small amount of marijuana at home for personal use – or potentially full legalization for adult recreational use, although it is unclear how much support this may have.

“There will certainly be vigorous discussions there [in the House] on what shape this bill will come back to the Senate in,” said Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie County.

“If this becomes a vehicle for adult use, I doubt that it would pass this chamber,” Laughlin said. “However, I think if they do add home-grown to this bill, it would strengthen the bill and I believe that we would be able to get it through this chamber as well.”

To that point, one of the three senators who voted against the bill on Wednesday said she did so specifically because home-grow language had not been added in.

“I will be a ‘no’ vote because I feel so strongly that we need to increase access to this medication for more Pennsylvanians by allowing them the option to grow a few plants at home,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County.

Likewise, although he voted in favor of the bill to keep the issue alive, Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said “it is unconscionable that we continue to do this without addressing the issues that so many patients are having with cost, and the best way to do that is to allow home-grown in small amounts.”

Moving forward with Senate Bill 773 “gives us the opportunity to continue to work not only in this space going forward but also in the recreational marijuana space as well, which I think will require further discussion,” Costa noted.

Wednesday’s Senate action was the latest indicator of momentum toward some type of larger marijuana reform in Harrisburg.


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