I saw a beautiful thing at the Capitol building in Harrisburg yesterday. There was hope on so many faces that too often look scared and sad. Parents of sick children who have felt hopeless and helpless for so long have been learning that cannabis can help their kids who they have been watching waste away before their eyes. Legalization for medical use of cannabis is possible and is sweeping the nation with new ballot initiatives and state bills seeming to pop up every day in some unlikely places with unlikely supporters.
Team MMJ fights the good fight with their emphasis on sick kids
Team MMJ, an organization formed primarily by PA parents of very sick children, planned a rally in the Capitol rotunda and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. The event was started off early by a number of speakers including Dana Ulrich, speaking on behalf of her daughter, Lorelei who suffers from epilepsy.
Josh Stanley speaking with Paige Figi to his right
The PA parents who got up to speak were very optimistic about their kids’ futures. They knew they are in for a tough fight since they live in Pennsylvania, a state with no current cannabis laws of any kind and strict penalties, but they expressed clearly that they were up for the fight and are not going away because this is their last hope for their children. In most cases, cannabis is their last resort, when it should have been their first. It was not a legal alternative and they don’t want to risk losing their kids that they are fighting so hard for.
It was wonderful to see and hear so many good stories of hope and so many sick children who are at least making it around. Lolly Bentch Myers (a Collective member and content contributor) was there and she spoke of her daughter Anna. Lolly doesn’t believe that she should be forced to break the law just to help her daughter have a meaningful life (or any kind of life at all, really). She is waiting for legalization and I applaud her for it.
Let me tell you, though, legalization needs to happen soon. While the press conference carried on, I looked over occasionally at Anna playing on her grandmother’s lap. Right there, while I watched her happily play, a seizure began. The little girl’s grandmother sat with her and held her tight telling her softly that everything would be okay and things would be better soon. Anna’s face showed fear, as you would expect. Fear and a sort of blank look of confusion. The scene (recorded with my iPhone and published with permission) was both sweet and heartbreaking at the same time.
Debby Bentch with her granddaughter, Anna
As I watched the seizure end, I dreamed of a day when I would not have to see Anna scared and in pain. She does not have to violently shake and damage her health even further in the process, not to mention other problems that are not so visible. I listened to Josh Stanley speak about how it is time for Pennsylvanians to tell their lawmakers that a healing plant should not be illegal, especially when you take out the THC that is the main concern of the current laws. The faces in the crowd were understandably supportive and there were many bouts of applause.
The Stanley Brother’s Realm of Caring (RoC) is working very hard to help as many seizure patients as they can with their cannabis strain “Charlotte’s Web” named for Charlotte Figi, a little girl with intractable epilepsy who is also the most well-known patient of RoC because she was featured on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special “Weed”.
John Hangar, current PA gubernatorial candidate facing stiff challenges in the Democratic primary, was in attendance and spoke briefly as well. After the first press conference was done, we waited for the next one where Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-17) was scheduled to make an important announcement.
Is a bipartisan bill the solution to our PA’s woes?
At the 12:30 press conference, Sen. Leach addressed members of the press and many Team MMJ supporters in the Media Room. He announced the planned introduction of S.B. 1182, a bill known as the “Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act”.
Senator Leach is a long-time supporter of cannabis legalization as shown in many public remarks as well as his persistence in proposing bills for the legalization of cannabis in many different ways. His most recent effort, S.B. 770, was referred to the Public Health & Welfare committee on April 3, 2013, but never got past Sen. Pat Vance (R-31) who chairs the committee to get a proper vote. Leach expressed his impression that this new bill is much more likely to at least get a vote because it is being co-sponsored by conservative Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48).
According to a statement released by Sen Leach’s office, the drafting of S.B. 1182 is truly a historical step for cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania. It is the first time in PA Senate history that a medical cannabis bill will be introduced to the Senate floor with bipartisan input and support.
It is unknown whether this will be enough to convince Governor Tom Corbett (R), previously having vowed to veto any cannabis-related bill that makes it to his desk, but Leach expressed his opinion that 1182 has a better chance of being taken seriously by Republicans because of its unprecedented support from members of their own party.
The text of the bill is still being touched up from what we were told, so I can’t comment on the substance or whether I agree with its provisions, but The Cannabis Salvation Collective is definitely in support of reasonable laws that help people in need sooner rather than later. Sen. Leach stated in his responses to questions from both members of the media and a few cannabis activists that it is definitely not all he wants for cannabis legalization.
Leach explained that he wants much more, but he is willing to work with what can be done right now to help people right now. While I have heard of rumblings from organizing members of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and none were present at the press conference to my knowledge, I did speak with several representatives of Pittsburgh NORML and they appeared to be supportive of efforts to do what we can now and keep working to improve.
Unfortunately, Sen. Folmer was forced to miss the press conference due to a death in the family, but he did release a statement which Leach read:
“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? There are other highly addictive drugs prescribed to help with pain and suffering, and I believe the use of medical cannabis is another option, a good option.”
As a personal side note, my thoughts and prayers go out to Senator Folmer in this hard time. I greatly appreciate his reasonable position and willingness to break with traditional party politics to try to help sick Pennsylvanians.
A life not being fully lived
I mentioned above that I witnessed one of Anna’s seizures while at the rally. Her mother, Lolly Bentch Myers, graciously allowed me to post it for this article. Anna is getting no relief because Lolly refuses to use illegally; a position many parents have taken even though they have been told by people (including politicians according to her accounts) to just use it illegally.
Thisvideo shows what Anna goes through on a regular basis and what cannabis treatments have been proven to significantly reduce or prevent. Anna goes from shaking, convulsing and scared back to playing like it’s nothing because she is so used to it, but she shouldn’t have to go through it at all. The video is unedited to maintain continuity.
Aiden Hunt is a creative writer and freelance journalist covering marijuana policy and other related issues. He has been published in print and online by outlets such as The Denver Post (The Cannabist), Marijuana.com, The Hemp Connoisseur Magazine and Cronic Magazine. He is currently focused on literary creative nonfiction.
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