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Gov. Wolf meets with medical cannabis advocates

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd

As state representatives sifted through and debated on the House floor a series of amendments tacked onto a medical marijuana bill, advocates who fought for years to get it passed met briefly with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in his office on Tuesday.

Hannah Pallas, 12, left, of McCandless Township, looks on as Jackson "Jax" Salemme, 9, pets a stuffed animal she is holding before Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Wolf, who has long supported medical marijuana, spoke encouragingly with the dozen of advocates, telling them he's confident the measure, Senate Bill 3, will finally pass in the House and, eventually, get to his desk.

"It seems to be a really fair thing to do," he told the advocates, some of whom had sick children who parents said could benefit from medical cannabis.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It was the advocates, Wolf said, who have brought the debate to the forefront. Anyone in the future who uses marijuana to treat ailments, assuming the bill is signed into law, will owe the advocates a debt of gratitude, Wolf said.

Senate bill: The Medical Cannabis Act would empower a state board to license growers, dispensers and processors. Patients would need a written certification from a doctor or nurse confirming they have a qualifying condition.

The list of approved conditions includes cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, diabetes and chronic or intractable pain.

The bill from Sen. Mike Folmer, who represents parts of York County, has had generally bipartisan support. Folmer, a conservative member of the Senate, teamed up with one of its most liberal members, Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware and Montgomery counties, to lead charges to get the bill to the House.

The bill easily passed the Senate 40-7 in May but became stuck in proverbial legislative purgatory in the House. More than 220 amendments were tacked onto it in the House, and representatives debated some of them well into the night Monday and continued Tuesday.

Wolf and the Democratic and Republican lawmakers who joined him praised Folmer for his tireless and unfinished work on the bill.

"There's no better champion of (this) movement than Sen. Folmer," said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, a former police detective.

Pa. House expected to vote on medical cannabis

Hopeful: Lawmakers and York County advocates who made the trek to the Capitol remained hopeful the bill would come up for a floor vote.

Gov. Tom Wolf is photographed with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Springettsbury Township couple Angela and Chris Ferro, whose son, Michael, has Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a disorder that causes him to have multiple and different kinds of seizures, said the fact Wolf has been a cheerleader for the bill bodes well.

"I think it's a good sign for the head of the state to be fully supporting it," Chris Ferro said.

Pennsylvania Rep. Ed Gainey speaks with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Even if the bill isn't passed out of the House this week, Angela Ferro, who has made dozens of trips to Harrisburg to support the cause, said she's confident it will be passed sooner rather than later.

If the bill passes the House, it will be sent back to the Senate for a concurrent vote before being sent to Wolf.

Cara Salemme, of North Codorus Township, has also been a staple at rallies in the Capitol to support medical marijuana. In 2011, her  then-5-year-old son, Jackson, caught a virus, leaving him with a form of epilepsy resistant to most drug treatments.

Gov. Tom Wolf is photographed with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We've never been more incredibly excited," she said of the prospects of the bill passing. "We're also cautiously optimistic."

Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, has been a proponent of medical marijuana from the start.

"This is the most satisfying and gratifying moment in my time as a legislator. Or at least it will be," he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with medicinal marijuana supporters in the Governor's reception room at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.