Rep. Scott Perry
Rep. Scott Perry

Congressman Scott Perry is writing a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the United States, saying he was swayed by the plights of at least a dozen York County families who have asked for his help in treating children with epilepsy.

Perry said he has met with numerous families and individuals over the past year, during which he examined medical research about an oil form of marijuana used to treat childhood epilepsy and other afflictions. The oil contains no THC, the chemical that causes the "high" in marijuana, and it has been effective in reducing seizures in children, Perry said.

"If we know this to be true, then the federal government should get out of the way," he said. "It has been shown to have no (negative) effects."

Parents want a bill to be passed immediately, as they've been watching their children's conditions deteriorate into seizures as frequent as several times per minute, Perry said. Some children are born without symptoms, but are wheelchair bound by the time they start kindergarten.

"You can understand their urgency," he said. "Their child is getting older and getting worse. It's just heartbreaking."

But Perry has spent months researching and writing a bill to legalize the oil for medical use and he predicts it'll be a lengthy process to craft legislation that addresses all of the variables and unintended consequences that could keep it from being anything other than "a feel-good piece."

For example, legalizing medical marijuana means there will be demand for the oil. That means someone needs to grow the plant so the oil can be extracted, but the plant is illegal.

"But then if you just legalize (the plant), it will be growing in everyone's back yard," he said.

State by state: Some states have taken matters into their own hands, but change is needed through Congress because marijuana is still classified as a narcotic under the federal definition, he said.

"When you're watching your child suffer, that's not a position the federal law should be putting people in," he said. "They should not have to break the law to avail themselves to medicine that could have a dramatic quality of life effect on a family member."

He said he's not sure how his colleagues in the House will view legislation, as "a lot of people, when they hear the word 'marijuana,' the answer is 'no.'"

Perry repeatedly emphasized that his bill would cover only an orally administered medicine removed of THC, not a smokable product or a product that would alter the state of the user.

He's opposed to recreational marijuana for numerous reasons, including the decades of effort the federal government invested in trying to reduce the smoking of tobacco, he said.

Perry said he sees no "upside" to legalizing recreational marijuana, as people would be operating cars and performing their job functions while impaired.

He said he doesn't care if people choose to smoke marijuana in their personal lives, but he is opposed to other people having to pay for their unemployment because they weren't able to keep steady employment, or pay for their medical expenses because they've been smoking.

Perry said no doctors from York have approached him about offering medical marijuana.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.