State Sens. Mike Folmer (R) and Daylin Leach (D) took the lead for a second year in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana debate. This year, however, they enjoy the company of 23 senators in sponsoring a bill.
Folmer and Leach held a press conference Tuesday announcing the Medical Cannabis Act (S.B. 3). The state Senate passed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it expired without a hearing in the House. The new bill creates a regulated medical marijuana system in Pennsylvania using the same language approved by a 43-7 floor vote last September.
With a new, receptive governor in office and support in the House, Pennsylvania appears ready for marijuana policy reform.
“There was a whole different feel being at the Capitol,” said Dana Ulrich by phone Wednesday. “It was heartwarming to see other senators standing up there.”
Ulrich (pictured left with daughter, Lorelei) co-founded Campaign for Compassion, a Pennsylvania grassroots organization of parents who want to treat their children with medical cannabis. She gained support through her website — Legalize for Lorelei — where she advocates for her 7-year-old daughter who suffers from severe seizures.
Folmer joined the call for medical marijuana laws last year after meeting with Ulrich and others like her.
Gov. Tom Wolf held a reception in his office after the press conference with the families in attendance. Ulrich didn’t expect the invitation.
“We didn’t even have to ask,” she says, “he invited us to come up and see him.”
Wolf vowed to support the issue during his campaign to replace former governor Tom Corbett and now he’s following up on his promise. Corbett opposed medical marijuana and, according to Ulrich, avoided meeting with advocates. Supporters welcome the change.
“[Gov. Wolf] was enthusiastic about our cause,” Leach said in a statement, “and told us to send him a medical cannabis bill as fast as possible.”
While support for Pennsylvania medical marijuana is high, advocates worry about restrictions in the bill. Among the concerns are a ban on smoking or vaporizing cannabis and a reduction in qualifying conditions.
“The bill that initially went to Senate Appropriations had 45 qualifying conditions,” says Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML. The version that passed the Senate lists nine conditions after the rest were removed from last year’s bill in committee.
Pennsylvania marijuana activists, including Philly NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, criticize the bill as not doing enough. Some even blame the parents for the bill’s limitations, an assertion that Ulrich says is misplaced.
Ulrich says she and other parents have always supported a “fully comprehensive medical cannabis bill in Pennsylvania.” She was likewise disappointed with the watered-down bill.
Folmer assured Nightingale and Ulrich that their concerns would be addressed in committee through the amendment process. The bill has been referred to the State Government Committee that Folmer chairs. Other sponsors, including Leach, sit on the committee as well.