While Pennsylvania’s efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses were dealt a setback a year ago and are only now re-emerging, Israel has already endorsed medical use of cannabis.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Dr. Ronni Gamzi, director-general of the Health Ministry, will establish a unit within the ministry to manage the supervision and supply of medical marijuana and to serve as an agency for this purpose according to the demands of an international agreement on the subject.
The unit is scheduled to begin operating January 2012.
Use of medical marijuana to relieve pain and provide other relief for patients was already permitted in Israel, according to the paper, though adults and children had to be authorized on a patient-by-patient basis by a psychiatrist at the government’s Abarbanel State Mental Health Center in Bat Yam.
Israelis with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana.
In the United States, 16 states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana for medical use, including New Jersey and Delaware.
But in Pennsylvania, a bill proposed by state Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, House Bill 1993, died in committee last year despite strong Jewish support from the Jewish Social Policy Action Network in Philadelphia and Rabbi Eric Cytrin of Temple Beth El in Harrisburg, who testified that medical marijuana was consistent with Jewish values.
This year, Cohen — a Jewish lawmaker — is trying again with a modified piece of legislation.
His new bill, House Bill 1653, differs from the old legislation in that it caps the number of so-called “compassion centers,” where marijuana and cannabis plants could be obtained, at one per 250,000 people, and adds legal protections for users, each of whom would be placed on a statewide registry at a physician’s recommendation.
The centers would be state- or nonprofit-operated.
The bill would also permit registered users get up to six ounces and six plants from compassion centers initially, and one ounce every three weeks thereafter.
“We made a few changes,” said Leon Czikowsky, a researcher in Cohen’s office. He said the new legislation takes a lesson from the more controversial California law, which permitted a proliferation of compassion centers, where just about anyone could walk in and obtain marijuana.
And the legal protections cover the users against discrimination by landlords and employers.
The bill has been referred to the House Human Services Committee, where Cohen is the minority party chair. According to Czikowsky, Cohen is hopeful that the majority party chair, Bucks County Republican Gene DiGirolamo, will schedule hearings on the bill rather than letting it sit.
A spokesman for DiGirolamo did not respond to an inquiry from the Chronicle.
In the Senate, another bill sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, and co-sponsored by Sens. Wayne Fontana and Jim Ferlo, both Allegheny County Democrate, is pending. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version would permit users to get three ounces every time they visit a compassion center and does not contain the same job and rental protections.
So far, the House bill has garnered only eight co-sponsors, none of whom are from southwestern Pennsylvania.
“It still hasn’t been accepted by the legislature,” Czikowsky said. “I think the public is ahead of the legislature on this issue.”
He said surveys on the issues have consistently put the approval rate among respondents at 70 to 80 percent.
“We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from western Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area,” Czikowsky said, “from patients and people who say we would rather give people in hospices [marijuana] because they would [be] more lucid than some of the drugs we’re giving them.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)