Cara Salemme of North Codorus Township, shown with her son Jackson, will attend an educational forum about medical cannabis being held May 1 in Hanover.
Cara Salemme of North Codorus Township, shown with her son Jackson, will attend an educational forum about medical cannabis being held May 1 in Hanover. Medical cannabis might ease the symptoms of Jackson's seizure disorder. (Bil Bowden photo)

An author of a proposal to legalize medical cannabis is hoping to dispel some of the "Cheech and Chong" imagery he said blocks fellow legislators from supporting his bill.

Just the word "marijuana" has been enough to turn away some colleagues, said Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon/Dauphin/York.

"All I'm asking any legislator is just to listen," he said. "I understand that there's decades of prejudice against this plant. ... This bill would take the Wild West out of cannabis and take it into a truly professional medical environment."

Folmer will discuss Senate Bill 1182, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, during a two-hour May 1 informational session near Hanover, hosted by Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Adams/Cumberland/Franklin/York, and two area representatives.

The bill was introduced by Folmer and Daylin Leach, D-Delaware/Montgomery. Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin/Perry, is one of 13 other co-sponsors, and Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, has pledged his support.

Supporters include Democrats and conservative Republicans, but many of the state's moderate Republicans have eschewed it; Gov. Tom Corbett said he wouldn't sign a legalization bill even if his own grandson were suffering from the childhood epilepsy that's driving the push.

The bill would add Pennsylvania to more than 20 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.


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Families support: Several York County families with children suffering from childhood epilepsy will attend the session to offer their stories and show support for the bill.

Among them is Cara Salemme, a North Codorus Township woman whose 7-year-old twin son, Jackson Salemme, developed a worsening seizure disorder after an illness when he was 5.

Springettsbury Township attorney Chris Ferro, whose 12-year-old son, Michael Ferro, has been diagnosed with a rare light-sensitive seizure disorder, will also attend.

Angela Sharrer of Tyrone Township, Adams County, will speak about how a low THC, high-cannabidiol strain of cannabis could help treat life-threatening seizures in her 9-year-old daughter, Annie Sharrer.

"I think Senate Bill 1182 really needs to be looked at as a way to treat people after traditional medical treatments have failed," Angela Sharrer said. "People see it as a stepping stone to full legalization (of recreational marijuana) and that has nothing to do with this. That's why I refer to it as cannabis, because they hear 'marijuana' and they think of someone smoking a joint. And I think that needs to not be the first thing they think of."

Folmer, Teplitz, Wagner and other supporters of the bill are opposed to recreational use.

The treatments are given in oil and pill form, Sharrer said, and they have helped children with Annie's condition. The only pharmaceutical treatment that reduced Annie's seizures also left her hospitalized with pancreatitis, so she had to stop taking it, Sharrer said.

Details: The Epilepsy Foundation and the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, both of which have taken favorable positions on medical cannabis, will also attend.

"The potential legalization of cannabis for medical purposes has generated a wide range of strong opinions from local residents, and lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure that we separate fact from fiction in order to make a decision that is best for Pennsylvania," Alloway said in a press release, in which he didn't take a position on the bill.

The session will be 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at the Southeastern Adams Volunteer Emergency Services Building, 5865 Hanover Road. Reps. Dan Moul, R-Adams/Franklin, and Will Tallman, R-Adams/Cumberland, are co-hosting the event.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.