Midstate senator used medical marijuana despite ban

Written by Ed Mahon/York Daily Record | Dec 15, 2016 7:28 AM

State Rep. Russ Diamond, left, and Gov. Tom Wolf, right, listen to state Sen. Mike Folmer speak at an event in April. Wolf traveled to Lebanon in April to thank Folmer for his work on passing a medical marijuana bill. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily)

(York) -- State Sen. Mike Folmer, who helped a medical marijuana legalization bill become law in Pennsylvania earlier this year, used medical marijuana while undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he said Tuesday.

Folmer, who represents parts of southcentral Pennsylvania, said he had to travel to another state to obtain medical marijuana, and he used it in Pennsylvania despite a state ban at the time. He used marijuana in conjunction with chemotherapy, and said he has been "cancer free" for nearly two years.

"I believe it helped magnify the effect of chemotherapy in a ... whirlwind fashion. I mean, my blood work has been immaculate," Folmer told the York Daily Record/Sunday News editorial board.

Folmer said marijuana also helped him keep up his appetite and avoid other types of treatment that would have been riskier and essentially put him on his "back for about six months."

Folmer said he has not publicly discussed his medical marijuana use before because he hadn't been asked about it.

Can he be charged?

There are several reasons why Folmer likely will not face criminal charges by publicly admitting use in the past, according to Jules Epstein, a criminal law expert and director of advocacy programs at Temple University's law school.

For one thing, simply admitting to a crime isn't enough for a conviction, Epstein said. There has to be other evidence that a crime occurred. There's also the question of whether any prosecutors would be interested in pursuing an investigation into a former cancer patient's past use of medical marijuana.

State Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon (whose district includes parts of northeastern York County), talks to YDR's editorial board. York Daily Record Editorial Board

"I think they have bigger fish to fry," Epstein said.

On Tuesday, Folmer laughed when asked if he had any concerns about breaking the law, and he jokingly referred to himself as "Mr., like, Down-With-The-Government Guy."

Folmer said if he's not harming anyone else or himself, and he's receiving care under a medical professional, "Whose business is it?"

He said marijuana is safer than prescription opiate painkillers, which experts say have led to a heroin epidemic in the state.

Folmer declined to say where he obtained marijuana, but he said he did so through "a valid laboratory," because "I wanted to make sure it was what it was supposed to be."

Folmer didn't provide a clear timeline of the different stages of his diagnosis and treatment.

He announced the non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis in February 2012, and in April 2013 he said that as part of his ongoing treatment, he would undergo chemotherapy twice a week, every three weeks, for six months.

Folmer said his cancer diagnosis and treatment didn't cause him to miss any voting sessions in the Senate. He didn't get high from using marijuana.

Folmer said he no longer uses medical marijuana, and he said he wouldn't use it recreationally even if it was legal to do so.

"Why would I want to feel stupid?" Folmer said. "I don't get drunk, so why would I want to get a buzz?"

Folmer, a Republican, was first elected to the state Senate in 2006. His district was redrawn to cover Lebanon County and parts of York and Dauphin counties.

Folmer has had libertarian leanings as a lawmaker. He was the prime sponsor of 2012 legislation barring Pennsylvania from participating in a federal ID program. He has pushed for changes to Pennsylvania's civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow government agencies to take property it suspects has been used in criminal activity.

Where things stand

Folmer teamed up with state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, to get medical marijuana legalization passed. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed the legislation in April.

The law will allow patients with serious medical conditions and under a physician's care to access medical marijuana at dispensaries.The program is expected to be fully implemented in 2018.

Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, although the U.S. Department of Justice has issued guidelines, saying prosecutors should not be focused on people "whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws" for medical marijuana.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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