The Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg. Credit: Sean Setters / Flickr

Tomorrow, Pennsylvania will border two states with legal adult use cannabis sales. By this fall, it’s likely that Ohio will legalize adult use as well. Despite that pressure and Keystoners streaming across state borders to partake, state legislators in Harrisburg seem to lack any kind of urgency to enact adult use, say local advocates.

“I don’t see anything happening now. I see just a bad culmination of crap. And you’ve got Jersey opening this week,” said Robert Raditsky, executive director of Philly NORML.

In particular, Raditsky was referring to three hearings held this spring by the State Senate Law and Justice Committee, on paths to adult use legalization. Republican State Senator Mike Regan, chair of that committee, along with Democratic State Rep. Patrick Browne, announced plans last fall to legalize adult use cannabis to fund law enforcement. Two other State Senators, Republican Dan Laughlin and Democrat Sharif Street, also announced plans for legislation of their own with completely different approaches. Laughlin, who would create a new agency to manage cannabis, and Street who would legalize home grow.

Still Laughlin’s hearings were not centered on any particular legislation, but conducted more as a fact-finding mission.

“It’s peculiar to be doing hearings without a piece of legislation. We’re waiting for a piece of legislation, and when we do, we’ll dive back in and ask those questions. The hearings served to air out what we need in Pennsylvania to move a legalization package,” said Merideth Buetter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, the main trade association for medical cannabis license holders. “I think you will see a bill in short order this legislative session.”

But if full adult use legalization may not happen this session, advocates have more hope for an effort by Sen. Laughlin to legalize edibles. Oils, creams, flower, and tinctures are all approved forms sold at dispensaries in the state, but edibles are banned.

Laughlin announced last week in a “legislative memorandum” that he will soon be introducing legislation to include edibles in the medical cannabis program. Pennsylvania legislators use a formalized system to announce their intention to introduce legislation through official memorandums to attract co-sponsors before filing bill language. Advocates are hopeful Laughlin, whose party is in the majority in both legislative houses, will carry his plans through.

“I’m glad it’ll be introduced by a Republican, so it will see more traction than by a Democrat,” said Luke Schultz, a patient advocate and member of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. “What kind of support there is, I’m not sure. Especially when you see lots of police organizations upset by diversion. That’s just reefer madness, and I don’t know what to do about that.”

In a press release, Laughlin pointed to the fact that many patients take making edibles into their own hands, sometimes producing dangerous consumables, but if nothing else, an inconsistent product that may affect how they treat their condition. Laughlin’s legislation aims to ensure edibles will be tested for potency and consistency and have strict packaging to prevent unintended or accidental use.

“It can get tricky if you don’t mix the oil correctly into your edible. If you don’t mix it properly you could get one cookie, brownie, or gummy with no medical benefit because you didn’t mix it properly and another with five times what you weren’t expecting,” said Schultz.

Leaders from cannabis companies are hopeful an edibles bill will pass this year. 

“When surveying other medical markets in the region that predominantly allow edible products, I think the Pennsylvania legislature will recognize that permitting an edible market within the state’s existing strict controls over child-resistant packaging, and clear marketing and labeling that is not attractive to children, can be safely administered for the benefit of qualifying patients,” said Brandon Nemec, PharmaCann’s Government And Regulatory Affairs Associate Director.

Still, this election year’s shortened legislative schedule might make it hard to pass an edibles bill.

“We only have a handful of session days until June, when we negotiate our budget,” said Buettner. “I don’t see a place for an edibles bill in the budget process. Could we come back and address it in the fall legislative session? Maybe. They come back in September.”