SCRANTON -- With the stroke of a pen, Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill that legalizes medical marijuana in Pennsylvania Sunday afternoon.
It will be more than a year before patients will be able to get access to medical marijuana across the state, yet this is a big step for the Commonwealth, becoming the 24th state to make cannabis legal to treat numerous conditions.
Applause and tears filled the rotunda of the state Capitol as Governor Wolf signed the bill legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Sponsors of the bill spoke about how their decision to support the measure was motivated by compassion for patients.
"My only observation of marijuana all along was that it was a narcotic, and if you had it, I would arrest you. So I had some transition, but see you can transition if you are willing to listen," said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150th.
While the ceremony was taking place in Harrisburg, the Northeast Pennsylvania Cannabis Rally was underway at Nay Aug Park in Scranton. Organizers say it was just a coincidence this rally fell on the same day as the governor's bill signing. Reaction to the news ranged from joy to skepticism.
Dave Bliler of Jessup was overjoyed about the news crediting cannabis oil with stopping his daughter's seizures and treating his PTSD.
"Thank you, Governor Wolf for saving my life. I am sorry. I am getting choked up. She is my life. I am a veteran. It is saving my life," Bliler said.
Paula Gallagher of Hazleton is a great grandmother, and hopes she will be able to take fewer medications.
"I don't want to be addicted to pain pills, and I have arthritis. I have rheumatism. I have osteoporosis. Give me a break," said Gallagher.
Not everybody we spoke to at the rally is overjoyed about the new law. Some people see it as too restrictive.
The bill allows cannabis to be prescribed for 17 conditions ranging from cancer to PTSD, but it doesn't allow patients to smoke the substance or grow plants at home.
"It clings to the old non-scientific, non-viable "Reefer Madness" propaganda as opposed to the truth about a nontoxic plant," said Carl Romanelli with the Luzerne County Green Party.
While medical marijuana is legal in nearly half of the United States, recreational use is only allowed in four: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Organizers of this event in Scranton hope to add Pennsylvania to that list.
Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law will eventually allow 150 dispensaries in the state.
We asked some of the business owners at the rally if they would want to be involved with opening one in our area, but they said they feel the red tape would be too overwhelming.
Anyone wanting to be a grower or processor needs to pay a $10,000 application fee, a registration fee of $200,000, and have $2 million in capital, including $500,000 in a bank.
Dispensaries need to pay $5,000 for an application, $30,000 for a registration fee for each location, and have $150,000 in a bank.
A fiscal impact report estimates that application and registration fees will net Pennsylvania $10 million within a year. The state will also impose a 5 percent tax on the sale of medical marijuana.
Doctors will need to register with the state Department of Health and complete an educational course before being able to recommend cannabis to patients.
Patients will have to apply to the health department to receive a medical marijuana card allowing them to purchase the medicine at one of the dispensaries.
It is not clear at this time how much medical marijuana will cost patients.
A "safe haven" provision included in the bill goes into effect in 30 days. It protects parents who give medical marijuana acquired from another state to a child under 18 with an approved condition. After six months, the safe haven law will also cover adults.