New federal budget bill includes medical marijuana protections

By John Schroyer

A key federal law that prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana companies looks likely to remain in place under a new federal budget deal reportedly reached Wednesday among Congressional leaders.

Language from the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is included on page 240 of the 2,243-page budget bill, which was posted online by Republican leaders.

However, the spending deal has yet to be passed by Congress, which has a Friday deadline before the federal government shuts down.

The Washington Post reported that the deal is “uncertain.”

Even if it is approved, the deal would last only through September.

The amendment, which was first passed by Congress more than three years ago as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, blocks the DOJ and therefore the Drug Enforcement Administration from using federal funds to prevent states and territories “from implementing their own laws” on MMJ.

The law specifically protects medical marijuana laws – and, by extension, MMJ businesses – in 46 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.

The only four states that aren’t protected are Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – none of which have yet approved any functional MMJ industries. (There are several states that allow for possession of CBD but don’t permit production or sales.)

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Philadelphia mall fight could affect state marijuana laws

A fight over a Philadelphia mall’s deed restrictions belongs in federal court because it could end up affecting the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

PharmaCann Penn LLC is challenging a deed restriction that prevents it from using the mall space it bought for any “activity or use which is unlawful.” The company has a state license and city zoning approval to operate a dispensary.

Simon Property Group Inc., the mall owner, contends the deed restriction prevents PharmaCann from opening the dispensary because dispensing marijuana is a federal crime.


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Hill doctor opens medicinal marijuana prescription practice

by Elizabeth Coady

Tucked in the rear first floor of 7811 Germantown Ave. is Dr. Rebecca Maury’s newly founded medical marijuana practice, Herbal Wellness Rx.

Maury, a Chestnut Hill resident who is board-certified in internal medicine and hospice and palliative care, this week quietly begins treating patients seeking to alleviate suffering from 17 serious medical conditions for which the state of Pennsylvania allows medicinal marijuana to be used.

Maury is among 433 physicians who have completed four hours of state-mandated training and are certified to treat patients seeking medical marijuana. Pennsylvania is one of 30 states that have legalized the use of the medicinal plant, still classified as an illegal drug by federal authorities, according to The Keystone state’s Medical Marijuana Program was approved by legislators in April 2016 and went live Feb. 15 when the first dispensaries opened.

“It’s still something that’s coming out of the shadows,” Maury said. “But it’s something I believe in. I feel happy to be part of the movement to get it out in the mainstream.”

The Washington, D.C., native has been ahead of the curve on using herbs to heal for decades. Even before enrolling in medical school, she attended the New Mexico School for Natural Therapeutics, a massage therapy and holistic wellness program, and the Southwest School for Botanical Medicine, where she studied the healing benefits of herbs.

According to her biography at, Maury then “spent several years traveling through the Southwest, wildcrafting herbs and studying their properties.”

She subsequently graduated summa cum laude from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in biology and then attended the university’s medical school. She found her way to Philadelphia via her internist’s residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

At Jefferson, she gravitated toward hospice and palliative care and discovered her ease in comforting patients with life-threatening and end-of-life illnesses.

“I was always interested in the healing arts,” Maury said, recalling how she would take care of baby squirrels that fell out of trees. “I sort of always have wanted to take care of beings. That’s just part of my nature.”

That innate caring proved a gift when dealing with the sick and dying, which she says “has the potential to be a beautiful, natural transformation.”

Treating patients with medical marijuana is a natural evolution in her caring for the sick. As she witnessed Pennsylvania’s slow roll toward legalization over the last several years, she thought to herself, “Gosh, this is something I should be making available to people. It’s a natural remedy. It has a very low if any possibility for complications for addiction.”

She points out the plant was used for centuries as a medicinal herb before being stigmatized in the early 20th century, in part by the medical industry. Even now the drug is viewed with disdain or stigma among some members of society.

But increasingly, the evidence for the health benefits of marijuana is winning out over old biases. Today, marijuana is used to ameliorate glaucoma and epilepsy, alleviate nausea and boost appetite in cancer and AIDS patients, ease post-traumatic stress disorder, lessen neuropathy from chemotherapy’s side effects, aide in sleep disorders and improve spasticity in Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis sufferers, to name a few ways it’s currently used.

Cannabinoids, a chemical component of pot, also has an “amazing anti-inflammatory component,” Maury said.

Under the new state laws, physicians who treat patients will review their medical histories and issue a letter certifying they are eligible to use medical marijuana. The patient, who must already be enrolled and issued an ID to participate in the state’s program, then takes the physician’s letter to the dispensary where they consult with a pharmacist or nurse practitioner on the optimal form, strain and TCH concentration of their marijuana treatment. Patients must pay out-of-pocket for their treatments.

Pennsylvania’s law allows for medical marijuana to be sold in liquid, pill, tincture, oil, and topical forms but forbids the sale of leaf, although members of the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board are currently considering including the sale of dried leaves to patients.

So far, 21,000 patients have registered to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program and 6,000 of those have been approved as eligible to participate by a physician, according to April Hutcheson, of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Pennsylvania has had the fastest rollout among state medical marijuana programs, according to Christine Visco, co-owner of TerraVida Holistic Center, one of the state’s 50 licensed dispensaries. Each licensed dispensary is allowed to operate in three locations in separate counties. TerraVida is licensed to operate dispensaries in Sellersville, Abington and Malvern.


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[OP-ED] Focused On Often Ignored Issues Involved In Legalized Marijuana

By Linn Washington Jr.

During an interesting public forum last week a county prosecutor, a prison warden, and two pastors took positions on pot that were in pronounced opposition to the traditional postures of persons holding those positions.

Law enforcers and clergy normally back pot prohibition regardless of its long documented racist and damaging impacts.

The prosecutor and warden, for example, both backed the full legalization of marijuana while each opposed decriminalization of that substance.

Decriminalization is a measure taken by the City of Philadelphia and other jurisdictions to mitigate damages from present pot prohibition like criminal records from arrests.

Gloucester County New Jersey Prosecutor Charles A. Fiore and Richard T. Smith, warden of the Cumberland County New Jersey jail, both noted a danger in decriminalization: failure to pay fines from citations issued for marijuana violations could lead to imprisonment –thus undermining decriminalization intent to remove marijuana from criminal system punishments.

Fiore and Smith, who is also the president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, were panelists at that forum held in an unusual place: a church in Woodbury, NJ, a town 12-miles south of Philadelphia.

Historically churches, particularly black churches, have been silent about or complicit in the Drug War that has ravished communities of color through racist enforcement practices.

In 2010 many black ministers in California railed against pot legalization efforts in that state, even bashing California’s NAACP head who supported legalization as a civil rights issue due to decades of racist enforcement that condemned blacks and Latinos to lifetimes of deprivations from criminal records.

Rev. Charles Boyer, a forum panelist and pastor of the Bethel AME Church that hosted that forum, said while he is not a proponent of pot smoking he is an opponent of mass incarceration arising from America’s Drug War. Boyer said his position on the Drug War arises in part from the work of the AME religion founder, Richard Allen, a Philadelphia black leader during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

“Richard Allen was an abolitionist against slavery. Modern-day slavery is mass incarceration and the Drug War,” Boyer said.

Boyer, Smith and other panelists, that included a representative of the Drug Policy Alliance, stated legalization of marijuana in New Jersey must provisions not normally included in such laws.

Those provisions include erasure of records for possession arrests, measures for the equitable inclusion of minorities in business opportunities arising from legalization, restrictions against monopolization by big Pharma, tobacco, and alcohol plus reparations for communities adversely impacted by the Drug War.

Lawmakers in NJ and Pennsylvania should adopt the provisions outlined at that Woodbury forum.

New Jersey has legal medical marijuana. Pennsylvania also has medical. NJ could soon have legalized marijuana since new NJ Governor Phil Murphy supports legalization.

That forum, entitled “Marijuana Legalization: Faith, Facts & Fiction,” was organized by the Gloucester County NAACP.

Marijuana is a new and emerging industry, said Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester NAACP and forum facilitator. “Since the train is coming we should all have a seat on that train.”

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City Council to Explore Medical Marijuana Workplace Guidelines


“Health issues ought not to be criminalized,” Councilwoman Helen Gym said on Wednesday.

While it’s true that medical marijuana is now legal in the state of Pennsylvania for treatment of certain conditions, cannabis remains outlawed at the federal level. This means that you could be hired one day and fired the next for taking your state-approved medication at night after work.

Given the disparity in medical marijuana laws at the federal, state, and local levels, City Council members are looking to better protect patients in Philadelphia by drafting clear workplace guidelines for use of what is still considered an illegal Schedule I drug by the federal government.

“Health issues ought not to be criminalized,” Councilwoman Helen Gym said at Wednesday’s Labor and Civil Service Committee meeting. Gym believes the priority should be helping patients “become their most full self” by allowing them to work no matter their particular medical situation.

Complicating things even further is the broad state law that allows employers to pick and choose which positions are deemed “safety sensitive” and thus cannot be filled by users of medical marijuana. “Employers may prohibit patients who are employees from performing any task which the employer deems life-threatening to the employee or other employees while under the influence of marijuana,” the law states.

Rather than continue this debate between federal and state law, the Labor and Civil Service Committee has recommended the drafting of specific workplace parameters to serve the city’s needs, even if they aren’t legally binding.

“We are just talking about some sort of guide that we can actively publicize, like a public service announcement or advisory for workers in the city of Philadelphia,” Councilwoman Cherelle Parker said.

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City Council Committee Reveals Employment Risks For Medical Marijuana Users

By Pat Loeb


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania has made medical marijuana legal, but it can’t completely shield people who take it from consequences. A city council committee hearing last week highlighted potential problems for patients.

Pennsylvania law says a person can’t lose their job because they’re certified to use medical marijuana, but attorney George Voegele told the panel it also doesn’t require an employer to accommodate marijuana use.

“Zero tolerance policies are still okay,” Voegele said. “You can discipline or terminate an employee for failing a drug test and, of course, you can still discipline an employee who’s under the influence.”

Veogele says that may change if challenged in court, but some jobs, such as truck drivers, regulated by federal law, would still not be protected and the state sets aside a number of jobs users can’t do.

“No one wants someone using medical marijuana driving their children’s school bus,” he said, “or up in a cherry picker working on power lines.”

Councilwoman Cherelle Parker was distressed to learn of the employment risks.

“The notion that someone suffering from PTSD or cancer could lose their job because they are a medical marijuana patient was devastating,” Parker said.

She hopes for a public awareness campaign for employers and workers.


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Legalized pot in New Jersey – not so fast

by Jan Hefler

When New Jersey State Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced a 62-page bill and primer on how to legalize marijuana almost one year ago, he chuckled when asked if it had a prayer of passing.

The legal sale of recreational marijuana had not yet begun in any other East Coast state, and yes, Chris Christie, the Republican governor at the time, had threatened a veto.

The bill, Scutari insisted, would give lawmakers time to digest and debate the issue so that a palatable package would be “ready for the next governor.”

 Gov. Murphy, a Democrat who promised on the campaign trail that he would give legal pot the green light, is now in his third month in office.  But no legalization bill has landed on his desk. None has even made it to the floor for debate, despite a Democratic majority in the Legislature and pledges from party leaders that this would be a priority.

“Many lawmakers are still undecided,” Scutari, a Democrat from Union County, said last week. In January, he predicted legalization would be approved by the spring, possibly the summer at the latest.  But now he says it might take a little longer.

“Politicians are not known as a courageous bunch, and it’s a topic people want to get comfortable with. … After 90 years of indoctrination that this is a bad substance, we have to turn people around, educate them,” said Scutari, a municipal prosecutor who two years ago led a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers to Colorado, the first state in the nation to legalize, to see for themselves how it was working.

Nine states and Washington, D.C., have approved recreational marijuana, and New Jersey was expected to be in the next wave, behind Massachusetts.  But some New Jersey lawmakers are suggesting alternatives, and legal pot may not be a certainty after all, at least for now.

Last September, a Quinnipiac University poll showed that 59 percent of New Jersey residents supported legal pot, while a Rutgers-Eagleton poll conducted in November pegged the number at 53 percent. Then, last month, a Fairleigh Dickinson survey found support had dropped to 42 percent.

“We’re starting with a blank slate, looking at all the options,” Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, a Democrat, said last week as he convened the first hearing on legalization at the New Jersey statehouse this year.

Danielsen is “Switzerland, very neutral” on the topic, said Wayne Dibofsky, his chief of staff.

As the chairman of the obscure Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee, Danielsen invited more than two dozen speakers to testify for and against legalization during a five-hour, standing-room-only session.


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Philadelphia Medical Marijuana Case Could Have Nationwide Impact

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A federal judge in Philadelphia is considering whether to take a case that could have an enormous impact on the medical marijuana industry nationwide.

The case involves a dispensary permitted for Philadelphia Mills in the Northeast.

Pharma Cann got a state permit and city approval to open in a former Chi-Chi’s near the Mall, but mall operator, Simon Property, sued in federal court to block it from opening.

It claims the deed forbids “illegal activity” and that would include the dispensary since marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Pharma Cann wants the issue resolved in Common Pleas Court, arguing it’s simply a case of an outdated restrictive covenant. Its attorney, Jeremy Unruh, says Simon’s attempt to make it a federal case is unduly excessive.

“I think they’re trying to mushroom this into the bigger policy issue as to whether or not the federal controlled substances act operates to preclude all 30 of the states that now have some sort of state medical marijuana law on their books,” he said.

Simon’s attornies declined to comment.

Judge Gene Pratter has heard oral arguments and given the two sides until this week for written comments before she rules on whether she’ll keep the case in federal court and hear those bigger policy issues.


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PA medical cannabis shops low on product; state OKs more licenses

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana dispensary owners are experiencing a common occurrence among new markets: a supply shortage.

Only two weeks after the state launched sales, some dispensaries have run out of product because of limited supply and unexpected demand, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

That news coincides with an announcement that the state has approved two more dispensaries to open their doors.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Because of supply issues, TerraVida Holistic Center is operating on modified hours and the Keystone Shop was forced to close. Both are in the Philadelphia area.
  • Roughly 21,000 people have begun the process to receive their medical marijuana cards, and more than 2,000 have purchased medical marijuana from a dispensary.
  • Only one producer, Cresco Yeltrah, is currently providing MMJ products to six open dispensaries.
  • Other states, including Maryland and Hawaii, have gone through similar supply problems in the early days of sales.
  • In addition to the two dispensaries, Pennsylvania regulators have approved a grower-processor to start operations, bringing the total of approved growers to 12, according to


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