Watch CBS News

Will Medical Marijuana Open The Door To Legalization, Decriminalization?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - For years now, Californians with cancer like Derek Beris have legally used medical marijuana to help them through chemotherapy.

"If anything, marijuana helps ease that process of intake food, digest, and not have pain," Beris said.

Starting next year, Pennsylvanians with one of 17 qualifying medical conditions will be able to do the same. First, the state must award permits to growers, processors and distributors and competition for those licenses will be fierce.

While the competitors will be many, the licenses will be few in number.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has divided the state into six regions and will allow only a limited number of licenses in each.

Here in the 11-county southwestern corner for instance, applicants will vie for only two grower/processor permits, or one of only five dispensary permits.

Russ Cersosimo advocated for medical marijuana in the state and is now applying for a grower and processor license. To do that, his group must put up $250,000, have $2 million in assets and a plan for a secure, indoor growing site by March 20.

"We're on a very compressed timeline to get these things checked off the list. And it's going to come down to who has the best application at the end of the day," Cersosimo said.

Before state approves a license, applicants must also get the blessing and requisite approvals of the host community. On Friday, the McKeesport Planning Commission approved plans to build a grow lab in a vacant lot on a reclaimed industrial site near the Mon River.

"We plan to continue that long-standing bond of manufacturing in McKessport, be a commitment to hiring local, Mon Valley workers, veteran and very skilled worker that are already present in this community," Gabriel Perlow said.

But, does medical marijuana open the door to legalization of recreational pot? States like California have gone there and that raises the question if Pennsylvania will follow suit. Even supporters say it's a long shot.

"With our more conservative legislature controlled by Republicans, I don't think there is going to be much enthusiasm for contemplating full legalizations," Patrick Nightingale said.

Despite the fact that there are now two bills to decriminalize pot in the Legislature, chances of them being approved are also very slim. But Nightingale, a marijuana advocate and lawyer, wants decriminalize marijuana thorough the court system.

Nightingale argues that since the law now recognizes that marijuana has medical benefits, it should no longer be categorized as a so-called "Schedule One Narcotics" along with heroin and cocaine and that prosecuting people for pot possession is a waste of time for the courts and the police.

"Why are we wasting their time for something that is medically available in 28 states, legal is seven states, legal in the District of Columbia and is not proven to have any of the collateral harms that we have with heroin, cocaine or even alcohol?" Nightingale said.

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.