State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

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Bipartisan, albeit small, support for medical marijuana

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 18, 2013 4:25 PM

Bipartisan legislation in the state Senate would legalize some medical uses of marijuana.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), the Senate's most liberal Democrat, said at a press conference Monday that the measure has the backing of one GOP senator and is narrower than medical marijuana bills he's introduced in the past.

Leach, who is running for Congress, said the proposal's chief intent is to legalize a certain kind of cannabis derivative that would help children with a debilitating kind of epilepsy. He said the only reason not to pass the legislation is an irrational fear "of the word 'marijuana.'"

"If this came from the yucca plant, or if this came from the larch tree, or some bacteria grown in a lab, this would be an utter no-brainer and in every CVS and Rite Aid in America," Leach said.

The cannabis derivative, cannabidiol, or CBD, has been shown to effectively treat a severe, drug-resistant form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome.

Paige Figi's daughter was diagnosed with the disease, but because she's a resident of Colorado, where marijuana use is legal, she was able to obtain treatment. She said her daughter saw immediate and lasting benefits after taking the marijuana-based medicine - but it can't cross the state border.

"From her 1200 seizures a month, she has one to two seizures a month now, and... we're talking years," said Figi, who spoke at Leach's press conference. "She can't be here, because I can't leave Colorado or I'm a drug trafficker, I'm a felon."

Christine Brann, who lives in Dauphin County , said she's considering moving to Colorado to access the medicine for her three-year-old son and the frequent seizures that have hindered his development.

"The medicine is an oil. It comes in a dropper and is taken orally. You don't smoke it and no one gets high off of it, you can't get high off of it," Brann said. "And more importantly, it has worked for the majority of children that have taken it."

Leach said he's still waiting to hear from the Corbett administration as to whether or not the governor will support the legislation, which would be a major break from Corbett's past statements that he opposes any legalization of marijuana use, medical or recreational.

"We're not here to fight a culture war," Leach said. "We're here to help some sick kids get medicine. It's really about that. And if we can just focus on that, I think that, maybe, we can make some progress."

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) is the first Republican in the state Senate to support such a measure, and by Leach's measure, one of the chamber's most conservative members.

Folmer just recently received a clean bill of health from his doctors after being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was not at a press conference announcing the legislation because of the recent death of his mother.

"This is not sitting around smoking," Folmer said in a written statement, underscoring the legislation's limitations on using medical marijuana that has psychoactive effects. "Who are we to deny a better quality of life to children suffering from hundreds of seizures a day? Who are we to deny less pain to a cancer patient made terribly ill from chemotherapy treatments?"

This post has been updated to reflect that Christine Brann lives in Dauphin County, not Cumberland County.

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