Pennsylvania Senate Passes Bill Letting Medical Marijuana Growers Sell Directly To Patients, With House Considering Home Cultivation Amendment

September 21, 2023 ·

The Pennsylvania Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow all licensed medical marijuana grower-processors in the state to sell their cannabis products directly to patients—and there’s talk of potentially expanding the legislation in the House to allow for personal home cultivation as well.

In a 44-3 vote on Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate advanced the measure from Sen. Chris Gebhard (R), who first previewed plans to file the reform bill late last year.

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law currently says that only 25 businesses can be licensed for marijuana growing and processing, and only five of those licensees can sell directly to patients through vertically integrated dispensaries.

That’s created a near-monopoly in the state, giving select out-of-state operators dominance over the industry “to the detriment of these independent grower-processors,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D) told Pennlive, which first reported Wednesday’s vote. Allowing independent in-state growers to vertically integrate represents a partial remedy.

While Pennsylvania has yet to enact adult-use legalization, there’s a growing expectation that the state will eventually follow others in the region and begin allowing recreational sales. Some businesses have felt the strain as anticipation about the policy change builds, especially as wholesale marijuana prices drop and multi-state operators continue to acquire smaller businesses.

To that end, some lawmakers have discussed using the bill that’s now advanced to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives as a vehicle for additional reforms, including the possibility of legalizing cannabis for adult use, or at least permitting medical marijuana patients to grow plants for personal use.

“There will certainly be vigorous discussions there on what shape this bill will come back to the Senate in,” Sen. Dan Laughlin (R), who is one of a small handful of GOP lawmakers to have championed legalization legislation in past sessions, said.

“If this becomes a vehicle for adult use, I doubt that it would pass this chamber,” he 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.”

One of the three senators who voted against the bill on Wednesday, Sen. Camera Bartolott (R), said the reason she opposed it was specifically because it did not feature home grow provisions.

Sen. Sharif Street (D), who has sponsored legalization measures alongside Laughlin, did vote for the vertical integration for growers measure, but he sharply criticized the omission of home cultivation, saying “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.”

Costa, the minority leader, said the legislation “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.”

Laughlin and Street separately filed a bill in July that would expand the state’s medical cannabis program by giving patients 21 and older the right to grow their own plants for personal use. That came shortly after the bipartisan senators again unveiled another  bill to legalize marijuana for adult use. Neither have advanced yet, however.

Meanwhile, in May, Pennsylvania House lawmakers filed separate bills to legalize marijuana sales through state-run stores and to provide permits for farmers and small agriculture businesses to cultivate cannabis once adult-use sales are allowed.

Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) supports enacting cannabis reform and proposed to legalize and tax adult-use marijuana as part of his 2023-2024 budget request in March.

The prospects of enacting legalization increased in the Keystone State after Democrats took control of the House following last year’s election. Republicans have maintained control of the Senate, however, but there are certain GOP members like Laughlin and Sen. Mike Regan (R) who’ve backed reform.

In February, Laughlin also sent a letter to state law enforcement, urging officials to take steps to protect gun rights for cannabis consumers, particularly medical marijuana patients, in light of a federal court’s recent ruling on the issue.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board voted to recommend that the legislature revise the state’s cannabis law to allow podiatrists to issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients. That same board also recently declined to approve a separate recommendation to allow patients to access cannabis edible products. (Full Story)

In categories:Medical State Bills
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