A growing number of state legislators wants to look past marijuana's illicit past and promote a medicinal future.

Others remain opposed or undecided, and members of York County's delegation fit into all three categories.

Local lawmakers are among those supporting state legislation such as Senate Bill 1182, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. The bill was introduced by Sens. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon/Dauphin/York, and Daylin Leach, D-Delaware/Montgomery. Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin/Perry, is one of 13 other co-sponsors.

Supporters include Democrats and conservative Republicans, while many of the state's moderate and mainstream Republicans have steered clear.

But even if the legislature would pass this or another bill, Gov. Tom Corbett said last Friday he wouldn't sign a legalization bill even if his own grandson were suffering from the disease that's driving the push.

The bill would add Pennsylvania to the District of Columbia and 20 other states where medical cannabis is legal and regulated for conditions such as childhood epilepsy, for which the prescribed pharmaceutical cocktails have life-threatening side effects and have failed to control symptoms in some children.

York County parents with children who suffer from the seizures have been among those attending rallies at the Capitol, the most recent of which was March 31. They cite the case of a Colorado girl whose severe childhood epilepsy has been drastically improved, apparently free of side effects, after treatment was approved in that state.


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Not 'Fast Times': A cancer survivor, Folmer said the Senate bill is written broadly enough to incorporate the oil-based treatment given to children as well as a smokeable form for conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes and cancer.

Residents who want the medical cannabis would have to be approved by licensed "Care Centers" under the legislation, and the state departments of health and agriculture would oversee the process from plant growth to patient administration, he said.

Bar codes could be used to track the marijuana product, and cannabis would be rigorously tested to verify it's the type allowed under the law. For example, the epilepsy treatment oil is created from a plant bred to be high in medicinal cannabidiols but low in THC, the psychoactive component of the plant.

"People think this is like Cheech & Chong," Folmer said. "This is not 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' ... I'm a social conservative. I'm not a liberal, but God gave us this plant."

'Reasonable step': Numerous pharmaceuticals have been derived from illegal drugs, yet the stigma surrounding marijuana prevents some legislators from considering the plant's medicinal potential, Teplitz said.

"I think (legalizing medical marijuana) is a reasonable step," he said. "If you can open a medicine cabinet and have Vicodin ... why should a medicine that happens to come from the cannabis plant be any different? It's pretty routine for a doctor to prescribe Vicodin or some other painkiller derived from a narcotic after a surgery, and we don't even think about that."

Reps. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, and Mike Regan, R-Carroll Township, are among the supporters in the House of Representatives.

"Sometimes I think we get too caught up, that we stop thinking once we hear the word 'marijuana' and we don't hear the medical science," Schreiber said. "If it can relieve some of the symptoms and lead to a better quality of life, and it's not used to the detriment of the community, far be it for us to deny it."

Regan just lost his father-in-law to cancer, and he said he supports the use of cannabis to stimulate the appetites of those undergoing chemotherapy. Children with epilepsy would also benefit, he said.

"If we can do something to help these kids, we should," he said.

Need more research: Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland/York, a registered nurse, said she has "great empathy" for the parents and children with epilepsy, but she can't support Folmer's bill.

"It's way too broad," she said. "We need to see more research."

Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, limiting the amount of domestic data collected because possession of the plant is illegal.

States that have decriminalized medical and/or recreational marijuana are technically in violation of federal law, though Attorney General Eric Holder has said he won't prosecute and he is willing to work with Congress to remove marijuana from the nation's list of dangerous drugs.

Conservative U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, has said he's writing legislation to legalize medical marijuana on a federal level, and some state lawmakers said that's where the debate really belongs.

"No matter what we do on a state level, it's still a federal felony," said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township. "Unfortunately, you open up parents and kids (with epilepsy) to being felons. ... I dislike the fact that (the federal government doesn't) enforce laws that are on the books."

Along with Grove and Vance, three other legislators said they would vote "no" if a vote were taken on medical marijuana. Also opposed are Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, and Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township.

Sen. Rich Alloway, a Republican whose district covers a portion of York, did not return calls for comment.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.