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PA is trying to legalize growing your own pot stash for medicinal purposes. Photo: Unsplash
PA is trying to legalize growing your own pot stash for medicinal purposes. Photo: Unsplash

With a low medical marijuana score, PA fights to get at-home growing

A bill introduced last November would allow patients in the state’s medical program to grow their own pot for medical use.

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In its 2021 State of the States Report, the California-based pro-cannabis advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana program received a C+ rating.

Compared with the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania’s score is lower than the average, and scored especially low in categories such as affordability, medicine access, as well as health and social equity.

One of the report’s main recommendations for the state is to allow patients to grow their own cannabis at home.

Last November, Sens. Dan Laughlin and Sharif Street introduced SB 1024, a bill that would permit patients in the state’s medical marijuana program to grow their own medicine for personal use.

According to a report from the Department of Health, some patients must drive over two hours just to reach their local dispensary, and the lawmakers argued that patients should be allowed to own up to 30 grams of the cannabis they grow for personal use, without needing a cultivation center license.

“For folks that have to get in a car and drive an hour or so away to get what they need to make themselves feel better, when they could have a couple of plants right in their house, it does seem a little bit cruel to not allow them to do that,” Laughlin said.

SB 1024 has been referred to the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Mike Regan, a leading Republican legalization advocate.

The state’s medical marijuana program, which was signed into law in 2016, is one of the five largest in the U.S. by the sheer number of patients.

Local defense attorney Patrick Nightingale, the executive director of Pittsburgh NORM (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), told Pittsburgh City Paper that home cultivation was included in the original marijuana program bill, but it was “removed once bipartisan negotiations began in earnest.” 

“There were concerns about illegal diversion and compliance with testing requirements,” Nightingale said.

According to Cannabiz Media, 18 states and Washington D.C, permit some degree of home cultivation.

Many of PA’s medical marijuana patients fervently support the home-grow wave, citing concerns with accessibility, such as a lack of clarity on the availability of different strains and notoriously high prices.

Patient John Brooks wrote to Pittsburgh City Paper, saying that there’s often no communication between dispensaries and patients on which strains will be removed from their rotations.

“It can get expensive and frustrating loading up on one strain to last long enough to see your dispensary bring it back, if they ever do. And it can be frustrating talking to budtenders, where you're constantly having to ask, 'Do you have anything similar to X strain?' just to get a very poor rec and have next to no medical relief with your purchase,” Brooks said.

Wholesale prices have significantly gone down, but retail prices have remained the same. Home-grow advocates hope that this option to cultivate in their own space will allow patients to get the benefits of their medicine at a fraction of dispensary costs.

According to Nightingale, home-grow is still illegal in Pennsylvania because right now the majority doesn’t want to legalize it.

“Republicans stripped it from the bill and that's that. We have not been able to move any patient-friendly legislation for the past four years because the Republican majorities in the House and Senate simply refuse to bring bills up for consideration and votes in Committee,” he said.

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