Supporters point to ailing children, urge swift passage of medical marijuana bill


After a yearslong bipartisan battle, Republican Sen. Mike Folmer said he's confident 2015 is the year the Legislature will deliver the governor a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

But the senator, who represents parts of York County, said he fears the law could come too late to help everyone.

"My greatest fear is one of these children will be dead before we get this bill done," Folmer said Tuesday during a press conference and rally in the Rotunda of the Capitol building in Harrisburg.

Senate Bill 3 would give Pennsylvanians suffering from some illnesses access to a medical form of cannabis. A handful of drug delivery methods that do not involve smoking it would be permitted under the bill. Methods include extracted oil, edible products, ointments and tinctures.

Many proponents, most of whom have ailing children who could be helped by the drug, have continually attended similar rallies, often driving across the state to gather at the base of the Rotunda steps.

The trip: North Codorus Township mother Cara Salemme, whose 9-year-old son Jackson Salemme could be treated with medical cannabis for the severe seizures he suffers, said Harrisburg is becoming their second home because of all the trips they've made to support the cause.

During the rally, Salemme said she's shed millions of tears on hospital floors in the 131 days since the Senate approved the measure in May, sending it to the House.

Despite threats by a representative to keep the bill in the House Health Committee, it was forwarded to the House Rules Committee, where it awaits a full floor vote. If approved, the bill would go back to the Senate for a final vote before going to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk for his signature.

I'm "sick and tired of it not happening," Salemme said after the rally. "The waiting is just so frustrating."

Though he said he "doesn't have a dog in the hunt," Wade McFarland of Bird-In-Hand, Lancaster County, attended the rally with bunch of homegrown tobacco plants.

The visual display was to show that he can legally grown tobacco, which is known to cause cancer, yet he can't grow hemp, which can be used to help those afflicted by numerous diseases.

Speakers: Each legislator who spoke during the rally called on the House members to jump on board and approve the bill.

"I ask the people in the House to move this bill forward as if it's your child," said Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware and Montgomery counties, motioning to the pictures of children who could be aided by cannabis.

The bill passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote, and supporters say it would pass in the House in similar fashion if or when it's put up for a floor vote.

A similar bill passed the Senate late last year but died in the House in the waning days of the session.

Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, said his district may be the most conservative Republican district in all of Pennsylvania, yet he's heard nothing but support of the bill from constituents.

"This has got to stop being about politics and has got to start being about people," he said.

Wolf, a York County Democrat, has said he'd sign a medical marijuana bill into law as soon as it gets to his office.

John Hanger, secretary of Planning and Policy, reiterated the point during the rally.

"He (Wolf) will sign this bill so fast it will make your head spin as soon as it gets to his desk," Hanger said. "We're got to get this done."

— Reach Greg Gross at