Authors Note: This story originally appeared on the Rick Smith Show.
Yesterday at the state capitol, Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Act, Senate Bill 3, took center stage at the Capitol with a standing room only Senate hearing in the morning and a passionate press conference at high noon. It has taken over three legislative sessions to get to this point, but State Senators Daylin Leach and Mike Folmer and State Representative Ed Gainey are poised to pass one of the country’s most comprehensive medical marijuana bills.
The fight for medical cannabis use in Pennsylvania began in 2009 when Senator Leach and Representative Mark Cohen initially introduced a bill. The turning point in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis journey shifted after CNN aired Sanjay Gupta’s documentary on the topic. In the CNN documentary, Gupta highlighted the story of Charlotte Figi, an eight year old who was suffering from Dravets Syndrome. From three months of age, Charlotte Figi would have multiple seizures in a day and some of the fits lasting for as long as a half hour. In the documentary, Charlotte is given a special strain of marijuana, Charlotte’s Web, that reduced her seizures to one time a week.
After the documentary aired, mothers of sick children from around the Commonwealth began meeting with their state representatives and senators and started to push for these bills. At the rally State Senators Daylin Leach and Mike Folmer praised these mothers and fathers for doing what no other citizen lobbying group has been able to in such a short time. Holding back his emotions when talking about the passage of this bill, Senator Folmer said “I do not want to get the phone call that one of the children I know passes away without even an opportunity, or at least the hope, of trying something that would be different.”
The press conference hosted by Campaign 4 Compassion gave those would benefit from medical cannabis the opportunity to speak out on the issue, and one of the speakers works as a staffer within the House of Representatives. Tim Keller, who works for State Representative Brian Sims, began experiencing chronic pain in 2005 and was diagnosed with reflexes sympathetic dystrophy in 2011. His disorder affects the nervous system and is known as the Suicide Disease. Keller explained that he has gone through conventional treatment and unconventional treatment that have not helped out his ordeal. One of the experimental treatments included using the hallucinogenic party drug ketamine for 10 days. In the previous bill, reflexes sympathetic dystrophy was stripped out, and as Keller explained, for pure political reasons.
At the senate hearing, over a hundred medical cannabis proponents, legislative staffers, lobbyists and opponents packed the hearing to standing room only. The hearing was hosted by the bill’s primary sponsors Daylin Leach and Mike Folmer and they were joined by Lehigh Valley Democratic Senator Judy Schwank and Southwestern Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Stefano. The point of the hearing was to hear testimony on tracking and enforcement mechanisms for medical cannabis patients, broader delivery methods through initialization and vaporization and the usual opposition by the Pennsylvania Medical Society who used scare tactics against this bill.
As reported in previous coverage, Senate Bill 1182 threw flew the senate with a 43-7 vote, but it was not an expansive piece of legislation. The bill left out coverage for those suffering from chronic pain disorders, PTSD and other mental illnesses. The bill also prohibited vaporization as a delivery method. Vaporization allows medical cannabis patients to feel the effects of the drug with in a few seconds of inhaling. This delivery method would help those who are suffering from cancer or chronic pain disorders. When asked if Governor Wolf would support a bill that would cover those with chronic pain disorders, PTSD or other mental illnesses and delivery methods such as vaporization, the governor’s spokesperson, Jeff Sheridan, issued the following statement:
Governor Wolf supports the legalization of medical marijuana. He believes we should not deny a physician’s ability to recommend medical marijuana treatment for Pennsylvanians suffering from seizures, those affected by PTSD, cancer patients affected by chemotherapy, and Pennsylvanians suffering from many other ailments and conditions that could benefit from this effective doctor-prescribed treatment.
Unlike the previous administration, it appears that Governor Wolf is on board with making Senator Leach’s and Folmer’s medical cannabis bill one of the most comprehensive bills in the country, and by judging the lobbying efforts by Campaign 4 Compassion and others within the coalition, they should be on their way. There is a broad bi-partisan support for this bill among the most liberal and conservative members of the House, but there is one person can derail something this popular. This medical cannabis bill is expected to fly through the Senate as it did last year, but now it is up to House Speaker Mike Turzai. Turzai decides which committee this bill will go to, and if it is sent to Daryl Metcalfe’s State Government Committee, it will take a long time to make this bill law.