OPED: Passing medical cannabis into law

Sen. Mike Folmer
48th Senate District

When I was running for the Senate — and again after I was elected — people would ask me: “Mike, how are you going to deal with issues where what you’re voting conflicts with your values?”  My answer has always been the same:  I would rather lose with principle than win by compromising my principles.

Sen. Mike Folmer yells, "We won," as he speaks before Gov. Tom Wolf signs the medical cannabis bill into law in the rotunda of the Capitol in Harrisburg, Sunday, April 17, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

However, during the long debate over my medical cannabis legislation, Senate Bill 3, this belief was severely tested.  After the House amended, debated, amended, and passed SB 3 to bring this much needed and long-overdue medicine to Pennsylvania, I had hoped we were on the road to getting SB 3 to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Gov. Wolf meets with medical cannabis advocates

However, as is often the case with any changes to a complicated and sometimes highly charged issue like medical cannabis, amendments don’t always fit together, there are contradictions and omissions, and other details that result in questions about the ability of a proposed bill to become effective law that will achieve its intended results in a timely fashion.

Unfortunately, this was the case with amended SB 3 when it returned to the Senate for consideration:  there were a number of issues and questions that could not be answered, which led to deep concerns it could not be properly implemented.

This fear gave me many sleepless nights as all I could think about were the people who SB 3 is intended to help:  the kids, the parents, the veterans, and others who suffer from diseases and debilitating medical conditions.

As is the case whenever I’m faced with difficult choices, I prayed for guidance. And, as is often the case when you ask the Lord for help, the answers come in mysterious ways — sometimes through unexpected voices.

For me, the answer came through Senate Majority Leader Corman who said: “this issue is too big, it’s too important, and there are too many people depending upon us to get it right.” Sen. Corman added: “for all the times the General Assembly is criticized for acting too quickly, this is one time when we need to take our time to get it right.”

That’s what the Senate did during the three weeks the amended SB 3 returned from the House: we worked to get it right.  After countless hours, these efforts paid off as SB 3 was again overwhelmingly passed by the Senate 42-7 and the House 149-46, and is now law.

Medical marijuana now legal in Pa.

While some elected officials were reluctant or at best lukewarm supporters of the concept and details of Senate Bill 3, they all found answers that worked for them in their hearts. For some, it wasn’t an easy decision. I continue to respect the decisions of each — including those who were not able to support SB 3.  Everyone gave me the courtesy of listening and due consideration to the proposals I brought to them.

Fortunately, we had a bill signed into law that will work. This is important because we never wanted to give anyone false hope.

There were many changes to SB 3 I didn’t like and many that made me uncomfortable. However, rather than looking back, I’d rather look forward to bringing medical marijuana to Pennsylvania. It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s one that will work to bring in a timely manner this much needed and long overdue medicine.

After all the time and effort, I can honestly say we got it right. And, as Sen. Corman said: Too many people are depending upon this, they’ve waited too long, and this issue is too important to have done otherwise.

— Mike Folmer is a state senator representing the 48th district.