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Is it enough in Pa? DEA loosens marijuana regulations

David Weissman
717-505-5431/@DispatchDavid

Medical professionals are lauding federal agencies for loosening medical marijuana research regulations, but those fighting to legalize its use in Pennsylvania worry it may further delay the process.

FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2015 file photo, marijuana plants with their buds covered in white crystals called trichomes, are nearly ready for harvest in the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. Marijuana-friendly doctors in states with similar medical cannabis laws face starkly different treatment by government regulators. When it comes to oversight of doctors, enforcement practices vary in the 23 states allowing medical cannabis. How governments oversee pot doctors has become an issue even in more tolerant states such as California and Colorado.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced in late December that it would be relaxing requirements on cannabis-derived research, according to a Pennsylvania Medical Society press release.

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 the DEA's announcement was "a tiny step forward," but not nearly enough.

Salemme, who works with a group called Campaign for Compassion to support medical marijuana legalization, said the current research being conducted wouldn't help her son, even though he's suffering just as much as those with conditions for which cannabis is being explored as an option.

In this file photo, Cara Salemme, of North Codorus Township, whose 9-year-old son Jackson was diagnosed with both encephalitis and epilepsy, speaks 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 - dsagert@yorkdispatch.com)

"Why is one group's pain more important than another?,"she asked.

Dr. Scott Shapiro, president of the state medical society, said more research needs to be conducted on cannabis before doctors can accurately know what they'd be prescribing.

"The problem is, there's so many different chemicals and types (of marijuana) involved," Shapiro said. "What we need is better data."

Shapiro said the semantics of the DEA's new regulations weren't completely clear, but the move to allow researchers more access was definitely a step in the right direction.

"We as physicians are not against anything that can help patients ... but we don't want to have patients asking us to recommend (drugs) for which we don't have enough knowledge or data available," he said.

Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mike Folmer, would give Pennsylvanians suffering from some illnesses access to a medical form of cannabis. The bill was passed in the Senate in May, but has since stalled in the House after undergoing nearly 200 amendments.

Folmer said he's not giving up on getting his legislation passed.

"We need to step up the rhetoric and continue to educate," he said. "That's how I got in favor of (legalizing medical marijuana) to begin with; I wasn't totally in favor of it at first, but I spent the time doing the research.

"This is not political; this is about the people," Folmer added.

Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.