Despite medical cannabis laws in 46 states, cannabis is still illegal under federal law.
The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of cannabis. These laws are generally applied only against persons who possess, cultivate, or distribute large quantities of cannabis.
Under federal law, cannabis is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. The federal government places every controlled substance in a schedule, in principle according to its relative potential for abuse and medicinal value. Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that the federal government views cannabis as highly addictive and having no medical value. Doctors may not “prescribe” cannabis for medical use under federal law, though they can “recommend” its use under the First Amendment.
In Pennsylvania, on April 12, 2016, Senate Bill 3 was approved by the Senate, and by the House on April 13, 2016, and was signed into law on April 17, 2016, effectively removing all state-level criminal penalties on the use and possession of medical marijuana by patients who possess a signed recommendation from their physician stating that medical marijuana “may mitigate” his/her debilitating medical symptoms.
Patients in Pennsylvania diagnosed with one of the following severe, debilitating, or life-threatening medical conditions, are afforded legal protection under the Pennsylvania medical marijuana law, as per Senate Bill 3- “The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program”:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
- Inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis)
- Huntington’s disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Intractable seizures
- Sickle cell anemia
- Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention or opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
- Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy
- Terminally ill, where a medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course
Effective August 2, 2016, ulcerative colitis has been added as a qualifying medical condition for the therapeutic use of cannabis. This is the result of the passage of HB 1453 (Chapter 173:1 of the Laws of 2016).
Therefore, a patient in Pennsylvania with a qualifying diagnosis and a prescription from a qualified physician is eligible to receive and use medical marijuana. However, since the individual and his or her caregivers must be mindful of the conflict between federal and state law, consultation with a medical marijuana attorney may be needed to clarify options. If you have questions please contact one of our offices today to have your circumstances evaluated.
Do you have any general questions about medical marijuana? State law? Federal law? Potential criminal charges?
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Please note: This post presents information only regarding medical marijuana, not legal advice, for which you should retain a medical marijuana lawyer. As a reminder, federal law applies throughout the United States (not just in D.C. or on federal property). Under federal law, all cannabis use is illegal; there is no differentiation for medical marijuana.