Medical marijuana might be signed this week

Katherine Ranzenberger

Cara Salemme has been patiently waiting 28 days for the Pennsylvania Senate to take another look at legislation that could help her son keep living.

Cara Salemme, of Spring Grove, whose nine-year-old son Jackson was diagnosed with both encephalitis and epilepsy, speaks in this file photo as supporters gather at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building to promote the legalization of medical cannabis in Harrisburg, Pa. on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.   Dawn J. Sagert photo

The North Codorus Township mother is waiting for a medical marijuana bill to head to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk, something that could happen later this week. Pennsylvania senators voted Tuesday afternoon to amend Senate Bill 3, which would create a medical cannabis program in the state.

Senators voted 42-7  just before 5 p.m. Tuesday to concur and send the legislation back to the House for another vote. The House passed the last measure with multiple amendments on March 16 with a vote of 149-43.

"We're very nervous going forward," Salemme said. "Campaign for Compassion wanted to move forward months ago, but it got held up. We're really at a critical time for the provisions to the bill."

Campaign for Compassion is a group of mostly mothers lobbying for the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The group has been working for years to get patient access to medical marijuana.

Salemme said the bill will have to go back to the House for a final approval, something that could push back the timeline yet again for patient access. The House has only one more session day scheduled in April and won't reconvene until May 2.

Jackson Salemme was a "normal" kid until around kindergarten, when he got a high fever and developed epilepsy. Now he has seizures very frequently and has to be hospitalized a lot. The family is backing medical cannabis research, which could reduce Jackson's seizures. (Bil Bowden - For The York Dispatch)

"We face some tough opposition in the House," she said. "It's scary to give them another crack at this."

Salemme said she is worried there won't be enough time for the House to look at the bill again or they'll push it off, letting it die on the floor, as a similar bill did in 2014.

"We really want to start the clock ticking on patient access," she said. "I feel like we keep kicking the can down the road. It's really up to the Senate and House leaders to make a bicameral agreement to help these patients."

House: However, political leaders aren't so sure the House will stall this legislation from reaching Wolf's desk later this week.

"Everything we've done has been to get it to the governor's desk by the end of this week," said Fred Sembach with Sen. Mike Folmer's office. "The fact that we did a second technical amendment shouldn't stop the House. They should be able to concur on it."

Sembach said all four caucuses were represented in meetings to discuss the technical amendments that tightened up wording of the bill.

Folmer, a Republican whose district includes a piece of York County as well as Lebanon County, has been pushing the legislation since 2013, when he was approached by mothers who wanted to help their children have better sustained lives. The legislation has been in the Senate since Folmer's staff flagged what it said was imprecise language about the regulation of marijuana growers, processors and dispensers at the end of March.

Proposal: The legislation would allow people to buy marijuana from a dispensary after they have been certified by a medical practitioner to have one of the 17 enumerated conditions. Those conditions include cancer, epilepsy, autism, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma and chronic or intractable pain.

Under the proposal, the state would license up to 25 growers and processors and as many as 50 dispensaries, which could each operate three locations. Patients could take the drug in pill, oil or liquid form but would not be able to obtain marijuana they could smoke.

Sembach said he expects the bill to be on the governor's desk by the end of the week. Wolf has urged passage of legalized medical marijuana. 

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at