Pennsylvania legalizes medical marijuana, hopes to curb opioid abuse

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Pennsylvania Legalizes Medical Marijuana, Hopes to Curb Opioid Abuse

On Sunday, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law after it breezed through the House and Senate last week.

Pennsylvanians will only be able to access the medicine if a doctor determines they suffer from a list of 17 conditions. Those conditions include cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures and severe chronic pain.

Some lawmakers hope marijuana will become a popular alternative to opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain. Opioid abuse is a big problem in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania had the ninth-highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2014.

See the Marijuana laws in each state so far:

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Marijuana laws by state
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Pennsylvania legalizes medical marijuana, hopes to curb opioid abuse

Alabama

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images)

Alaska

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

(Photo: Zoonar/N.Okhitin via Getty Images)

Arizona

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: TaylorB90/Flickr)

Arkansas

No legalization of any kind 

(photo: yorkfoto)

California

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images)

Colorado

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use  

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Connecticut

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

Delaware

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

Florida

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Georgia

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Hawaii

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Idaho

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Illinois

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm)

Indiana

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Iowa

No legalization of any kind

(photo: yorkfoto)

Kansas

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Kentucky

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images)

Louisiana

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Maine

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Maryland

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Massachusetts

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Michigan

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Minnesota

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: anthonylibrarian/Flickr)

Mississippi

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc via Getty Images)

Missouri

No legalization of any kind 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Montana

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: J.Stephen Conn/Flickr)

Nebraska

No legalization of any kind 

(photo: Shutterstock)

Nevada

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

New Hampshire

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

New Jersey

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

New Mexico

Marijuana legalized for medical use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

New York

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

North Carolina

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Getty Images)

North Dakota

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Ohio

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Oklahoma

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Oregon

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use  

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Pennsylvania

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Henryk Sadura)

Rhode Island 

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

South Carolina

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

South Dakota

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL/Flickr)

Tennessee

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Texas

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Utah

No legalization of any kind 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Vermont

Marijuana legalized for medical use

(photo: Shutterstock)

Virginia

No legalization of any kind

(photo: Shutterstock)

Washington

Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

(photo: Shutterstock)

West Virginia 

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: dk_photos via Getty Images )

Wisconsin

No legalization of any kind 

(photo: Kubrak78)

Wyoming

No legalization of any kind

(Photo: Space Images via Getty Images)

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A study from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that "states with medical marijuana laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without such laws."

Former U.S. Marine Mike Whiter helped push for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. After serving in Iraq, he was diagnosed with PTSD.

To fight that, doctors prescribed dozens of drugs that Whiter says nearly ruined his life. He credited marijuana with helping him recover.

"I was in such a bad place and I'm not there anymore. And I want to help other veterans get to where I am now," he told WPMT.

With Pennsylvania's newest law, medical marijuana is now legal in 24 states and Washington, D.C. But VA doctors still can't officially recommend cannabis to patients since pot is illegal at the federal level.

Patients who do get access to marijuana in Pennsylvania won't be able to smoke it. Instead, they'll have to use a pill, oil, ointment or vaporizer. Lawmakers said it could take up to two years before the state's marijuana system is up and running.

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