Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (Matt Rourke)

Gov. Tom Corbett's stunning reversal on medical cannabis was greeted with cautious cheers in York County, with parents of children with intractable epilepsy saying they're both encouraged and skeptical about the turnabout.

Before about 2 p.m. Thursday, medical cannabis advocates were preparing to launch a sit-in in Corbett's Capitol office to get his attention. Parent groups had given Corbett until the end of the day Friday to meet with them.

But around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, North Codorus Township resident Cara Salemme was among numerous parents statewide to receive a letter from Corbett announcing his plans to work with the Legislature to allow access to cannabidiol. The cannabis-derived oil is low in THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. It's taken orally and has been linked to reduction of seizures.

Research: Corbett wants the state to conduct a research pilot project with leading in-state children's hospitals, having already had "productive conversations" with both Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, he wrote in the letter.

The Hershey hospital is where Salemme's 7-year-old son, Jackson Salemme, has been treated since he started suffering severe seizures just after his fifth birthday.

"I was shaking, then I got teary," said Cara Salemme. "I'm super encouraged that he is at least having some sort of thought about this and not just saying 'No.'"

Corbett previously opposed medical marijuana and recently said he would be too distraught to reconsider his position even if his own grandson suffered seizures.

"I want to say I'm so happy, jumping through the roof," Salemme said. "But I'm very afraid. This is absolutely a life-changer for Jack, unless it's not. ... What if my child is one that needs (higher doses of THC)?"

Corbett is bending on the low-THC oil, but many of the parents have rallied around Senate Bill 1182, which would allow cannabis to be used for a broader range of ailments, not just the oil linked to seizures, and in broader applications, such as smoking.

Limits: Salemme said she was concerned about how limited Corbett might want access to be. She hopes people who could benefit from the plant's uses won't be denied access because the scope of the study is so narrow, she said.

Ron Hess, a 67-year-old Springettsbury Township man diagnosed with dementia, said there are many Pennsylvanians could benefit from medical marijuana for treatment of his own illness, as well as autism, cancer, fibromyalgia, cystic fibrosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"These kids need help today. Yesterday," he said. "Treat the kids first, I've got no problems with that. On the same token, it's not helping me at all, and I need it. So I don't plan on letting up and not asking for help for the rest of us, either."

Hess said he worked as an information technology systems administrator for Dover Area School District until he started having early symptoms of dementia.

"I never made an error that was noticed or unrecoverable, but I was in a position where I had to make decisions in a split-second and they had to be correct," he said. "I was getting less confident I could keep doing that."

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.