Medical Marijuana Bill gets Focus in the Pa. Senate Next Week
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Posted 11 September 2014 - 07:53 PM
Medical Marijuana bill gets focus in the Pa. Senate next week
by Christina Kauffman
Lancaster City Council's Tuesday night vote to support legalization of medical marijuana represents a growing wave of acceptance of a once-taboo subject, and proponents are hoping the vote was just a primer for the coming weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said Wednesday he plans to caucus a medical marijuana legalization bill next week after legislators return for fall session.
Senate Bill 1182, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, passed 11-0 from the Senate's Law and Justice Committee in June.
Pileggi said the legislation has "broad support" in the Senate, and next week's discussion will decide whether to move forward on a full vote in that chamber.
Folmer on Wednesday said he believes he has the votes of 45 of the state's 50 senators, but the bill could be a tougher sell with the House of Representatives and Gov. Tom Corbett, who must also approve it before it would become law.
The final document is expected to be broader in scope than Corbett previously said he would support, Pileggi said.
In the House, Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said there are still "a number of members who believe that it's the FDA that should be deciding what is and what isn't medicine."
Pharmaceutical companies are among the bill's biggest opposition, Folmer said, but the cannabis-derived treatments come without the life-threatening side-effects of many prescribed medications.
Citizen activists whose children suffer from intractable epilepsy, a group of mothers Folmer calls "The Mama Bears," have led a growing educational movement that has gradually recruited new supporters from the ranks of both chambers, he said.
"We've been on a mission from the beginning to not view anyone who's opposing as an enemy, but to educate, educate, educate," he said.
The bill doesn't propose getting children high or making them smoke, he said. It would allow in-state physicians to prescribe medicinal cannabis for numerous conditions, including the seizure disorders for which a low-THC cannabis oil has shown effective.
Mom starts recruiting
Among the 'Mama Bears' is Lolly Myers, a Swatara Township mother whose journey with 6-year-old daughter Anna Myers parallels the stories of numerous other Pennsylvania parents of children who suffer from intractable epilepsy.
First, there was pharmaceutical roulette.
Lolly Myers said she had reached a point at which she would try just about anything to stop the constant assault against her daughter's brain, she said.
In the three years since Anna's diagnosis, she has been prescribed 10 different anticonvulsants. Most worsened the seizures.
Then came the "voo-doo."
The mother tried frankincense on the child's neck. Holy basil drops in mouth. Supplements. Fish oil. Vitamin E. Going dye-free. Carb-free. Taking turmeric pills.
But the Swatara Township mother blew off the friends who suggested medical marijuana.
Part of her refusal, she said, was reluctance to get her hopes up just to have them crushed. Eventually, she started researching it.
What the research yielded was -- for her and a growing number of the state's voters and politicians -- something that transformed a skeptic into an advocate.
About six months ago, she and others founded an advocacy group called "Campaign for Compassion," a group that has grown to include more than 1,000 members. They're holding another rally in Harrisburg on Monday.
"We feel like God brought us together for a purpose," Myers said. "We are light-years ahead of where we were even just a year ago. A year ago, nobody knew about this medicine. Now everybody gets asked the question, 'How do you feel about medical marijuana?' The political tide has changed."
Myers said every day, at least one child from the group enters a prolonged seizure.
"I think in that moment, 'This is it. We're going to lose one,'" she said. "These are Make-A-Wish kids. Every one of them is at the risk for sudden death, and it's not fair to make them wait another minute."
Myers said she believes medical marijuana has reached the critical level of support needed for the bill to become law, and the Lancaster City Council's vote is evidence of that.
Lancaster takes a stand
While Philadelphia is expected to vote to decriminalize marijuana, Lancaster might've been the first and only municipality in the state to pass a resolution in favor of medical marijuana.
Amy Sturges, director of governmental affairs for the Pennsylvania Municipal League, said she's unaware of any other municipalities that have taken or are considering a position on medical marijuana.
But she said medical marijuana is outside the league's usual policy interests, which include open record laws and state policies pertaining to municipalities.
"The Municipal League would not bring (medical marijuana) up to them," she said. "Taking action on this sort of thing is outside the realm of this organization. This is outside the purview of the local government, and the council must've felt strongly about it."
The Municipal League is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing Pennsylvania cities, townships, towns, boroughs, and home rule municipalities.
The resolution to support Folmer's Senate bill doesn't legally change anything within the city limits, but Lancaster City Council member James Reichenbach said the vote was intended to give the city a voice as state legislators mull the proposal.
"I look at our country as a compassionate country and to me that was a no-brainer," he said. "This wasn't a grandstanding issue. It was an attempt to give elected officials above us more information so they have our position when they make the decision. This constituent base has spoken."
The council moved forward on the resolution after an "overwhelming number" of residents expressed support, he said.
The council's decision was also backed by a June survey showing support for medical marijuana reached its highest level in the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
According to the poll, 84 percent of voters strongly favor or somewhat favor allowing adults to use medical marijuana for treatment if a doctor recommends it.
With the growing support and the efforts of amateur lobbyists, Folmer said he expects the bill will become law this fall.
"My only fear is nature of the whole political process in Harrisburg, that this would get caught up in the quagmire and we have to start all over from scratch again next year," he said.
On a federal level, Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, has introduced a bill to legalize the marijuana-based oil treatment for seizures. That bill is still in committee.
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