Jackson Salemme had a grin from ear to ear as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed the medical marijuana bill into law.
The 9-year-old North Codorus Township boy now has access to medication that could help him have fewer seizures, become more cognizant and might even help him say the word "Mom" for the first time in five years.
"We've already started talking with Jackson's neurologist and have a timeline set up that goes with the timeline of the legislation," said Cara Salemme, Jackson's mother. "This is the beginning of a healing journey for him."
Salemme and others have been fighting for legalization of medicinal cannabis in Pennsylvania for years. Salemme is a part of a group called Campaign for Compassion, a group of mostly mothers who have lobbied for access to medical marijuana that could help their children thrive.
Bicameral support: Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican whose district includes part of York County as well as Lebanon County, was approached by two of these mothers in 2013. The 60-year-old Republican introduced Senate Bill 3 in 2015, and the bill finally was approved by both the House and Senate Wednesday.
He said to be able to help the mothers and others reach this goal is an incredible feeling.
"This is their day," Folmer said after Wolf signed the bill. "I am so happy for them. They not only had the stress of a child with special needs, but also they had the added stress of lobbying here."
Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Applause filled the rotunda at the Capitol in Harrisburg multiple times from the hundreds who gathered there for the signing ceremony. Salemme said it was amazing to see so many people come out to witness the signing.
"It's like a big family," she said. "Some of them you see every day and some of them you've only talked to on the phone. There's a lot of hope in this room."
Wolf said this is a great day for Pennsylvanians as they gain access to medication that could help them continue their lives.
"It says we can work together," Wolf said. "Every once in a while right here in this building, we get things done. This is something good for Pennsylvania. There is a real human need right here in Pennsylvania."
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, made sure to thank all of the advocates who came to speak on behalf of their children and loved ones. He said hearing their stories helped him with his decisions and helped others learn what a difference it could make.
"We stopped being politicians and started being human beings," Leach said.
What's next: After 30 days, the "safe haven" law will kick in, allowing some patients to start using medical marijuana bought in other states where it is legal for treatment. This also allows patients and families who left the state, such as Sara and Nicky Boninfante, to come back and safely continue to use their medication.
However, the Boninfantes' 12-year-old son, Blake, won't be one of those people. Sara Boninfante said the legislation came too late for the family, who moved from southern Chester County to Longmont, Colorado, so Blake could have access to medical marijuana.
He has uncontrolled myoclonic epilepsy, which causes brief, shock-like muscle jerks that usually don't last more than a second or two, according to to the Epilepsy Foundation. Blake, who also is on the spectrum of autism, can have up to 500 seizures a day, his parents have said.
If implementation of similar bills in other states is any indication, it could take 2 to 4 years before medical marijuana would be legally sold in Pennsylvania. Salemme said there is a certain timeline in the legislation to help guide regulations. In the next six months, she said, there should be more guidelines created to help patients gain access to the medicine.
A network of growers, who have to grow the plants in the state, and dispensers will have to be set up, and it's not known how long that would take.
— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.