A key Senate committee in Pennsylvania gave the green light to a bill that would protect medical cannabis patients from DUI charges, so long as they are not actively impaired when driving. Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, approved a separate measure to protect banks servicing state-legal cannabis businesses from state interference.
The DUI legislation – SB 167 – was introduced by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R) and now that it has been approved by the Senate Transportation Committee it is on its way to the Senate floor for a full vote. If passed, it would amend state law so as to require proof of THC impairment before a registered medical cannabis patient could face prosecution on DUI charges.
Under Pennsylvania’s marijuana DUI laws, a zero-tolerance approach is in force meaning any trace of marijuana in a person’s system is understood as impaired driving. This is a problem for Pennsylvania’s 368,000 medical marijuana patients as THC metabolites remain in a person’s system long after they last consumed cannabis.
It also runs counter to research that indicates there is no link between traces of THC metabolites in a person’s system and impaired driving. Most other state cannabis DUI laws either require proof of impairment or have per se limits for THC blood concentration.
“While the responsible medical cannabis patient never drives impaired, the risk of a zero-tolerance DUI arrest and prosecution is one of the most serious issues confronting Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis community,” Bartolotta said in a press release. “My bill will protect this community without sacrificing the safety of our roads.”
In effect, Bartolotta’s bill would ensure that cannabis is treated in the same manner by law enforcement as Schedule II and III drugs, including medication for anxiety and prescription opioids.
Separately, the full Senate voted in favor of a House-approved bill with an amendment that would afford protections to banks working with state-legal medical marijuana businesses.
The measure had already been approved by the Senate as a standalone bill, as well as by a House committee, but the legislation’s lead sponsor – Sen. John DiSanto (R ) – added it as an amendment to HB 311, which concerns the savings promotion programs of specific financial institutions.
The marijuana banking amendment was overwhelmingly approved in a 47-2 vote, while the amended bill cleared the Senate 46-4. The measure now requires the approval of the House once again before it can make its way to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for his signature.
“The provisions of cannabis banking are incredibly important,” said Sen. Sharif Street (D) prior to the vote. “It does provide additional safety—but moreover, in the long run, allowing traditional banking, opening up markets [will] allow smaller and more diverse business people to become involved in the cannabis industry.”
Marijuana banking reform advocates believe the measure is more likely to pass as a an amendment than as a standalone bill. In either case, the reform would not guarantee protections to banks from federal interference.
Pennsylvania’s steps towards implementing cannabis banking reform are in contrast to continued inaction in the Senate on Capitol Hill. While lawmakers in the House of Representatives have approved the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in one form or another six times, the Senate has yet to act on the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insists on prioritizing comprehensive federal cannabis reform ahead of piecemeal measures, but as his bill faces repeated delays and as more and more states take unilateral action on the issue, pressure is likely to grow.
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