Lancaster County’s state lawmakers were among a minority of House members Wednesday when they opposed a widely supported medical cannabis bill that is on its way to becoming law.
The legislation passed the House 149-43 after it also passed the Senate by a large margin last May. The legislation now goes back to the Senate and would then go the desk of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has pledged to sign it.
Of those 43 legislators who voted “no” — who were all Republican and are some of the most conservative members — eight of them came from Lancaster County’s 13-member House delegation. The county’s only Democratic representative, Mike Sturla of Lancaster city, did not vote because he wasn't in attendance.
The only county “yes” votes came from state Reps. Mark Gillen and Jim Cox, who represent smaller portions of the municipalities near Berks County and who sometimes don’t vote alongside the rest of the Lancaster GOP delegation.
Rep. Bryan Cutler, the House Majority Whip from Peach Bottom, spoke on the House floor during the vote to say the bill was “well-intentioned” but that he could not support it, citing the drug's lack of approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“We’re setting the path to bypass the FDA product approval process, whether the drugs are good or bad,” Cutler said. “We’re saying we’re willing to circumvent that process, a process that’s been in place for over 100 years, because it’s what’s needed now.”
That FDA process, Cutler admitted, is “painfully slow,” and that he hopes the FDA does reclassify the drug so it can be studied further.
In a joint statement, Reps. Steven Mentzer and Keith Greiner said one of the main reasons they voted against it was because of an amendment that lifted the cap on the amount of THC in medical cannabis.
“The legislation now allows cannabis-based medicines to have an unlimited amount of THC,” which could “open the door for potential abuse and increased recreational use,” they said.
Still, many of the “no”-voting delegation expressed sympathy for the suffering families and patients who have advocated for medical marijuana for years.
“While I absolutely have compassion for the families who are seeking medical treatment for their kids and believe that medical marijuana could be of benefit, I simply cannot get past the fact that it is not approved by the FDA,” said Rep. Mindy Fee, of Manheim, in an email to LNP earlier this week.
As many as 23 states and the District of Columbia have approved medical use of marijuana. Four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — have also legalized recreational use.
As the bill heads back to the Senate, it could also face opposition from Lancaster County’s pair of Republican Senators. State Sens. Lloyd Smucker and Ryan Aument both voted against it last year when it passed the Senate 40-7.