Families, lawmakers ‘darn optimistic’ for medical marijuana legalization this year

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Blog

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Dana Ulrich feels conflicted about her status as an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana.

Lorelei, her 7-year-old daughter, suffers from 700 seizures every day, down from 1,400 thanks to a battery of medication. The one saving grace is that her other diagnoses — including autism and sensory processing disorder — mean she likely isn’t aware that her childhood is any different from that of her peers.

For nearly two years, Dana, a mother of three, has been calling lawmakers, speaking at rallies and appearing at events like the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Her family has become the face of a movement to give patients like Lorelei access to marijuana in order to ease their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

“I can’t just sit at home and hope that somebody else wins this fight for us,” Dana says, as her son Lucas plays in the background at her Reinholds, Berks County, home.

But Dana, who regularly talks with parents like her from across the state and country via the Internet, knows many quietly administer cannabis oil to their children. They risk prosecution, something Dana can’t do because of the increased scrutiny she’s brought to her family and her cause.

“Every time I see her have one of her bigger seizures, I think: ‘right now, I could be giving her cannabis oil to stop this seizure’,” she says, “and I can’t because, if I get caught, I could lose my children and I’d be going to jail.”

Last year marked a disappointing defeat for medical marijuana advocates, as legislation passed the state Senate only to die in the House without a vote. Since then, however, a supportive governor has taken office along with new leadership in both chambers of the General Assembly. More than any prior year, it appears that 2015 will be the year medical marijuana comes to Pennsylvania.

The issue has made unlikely allies of two lawmakers: Sens. Mike Folmer, a Republican from Lebanon County, and Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

“I can’t just sit at home and hope that somebody else wins this fight for us.” Dana Ulrich

“The credit has to go to Sen. Folmer,” Leach said. “If it was just me, people would say, ‘That’s just Daylin. He’s a crazy liberal. Sen. Folmer has all the conservative credentials.”

Folmer said the bill’s supporters plan to continue educating their colleagues as it makes its way through the Legislature. By the time it comes up for a vote, he said, the hope is that any objections can been overcome.

“It was labeled as a liberal issue — being soft on drugs — but that’s not the case,” he said. “It’s not about the high. It’s about compassionate access to quality medicine that can help folks. It’s about adding one more arrow to their quiver to help them fight as their doctors best see fit.”

Bipartisan support for the measure has steadily increased in recent years. During last September’s Senate vote, current Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, both voted for the bill.

Last year, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, opposed the medical marijuana bill, saying that legalization should come down from the federal level. Medical marijuana could have a clearer path there now that the new majority leader is David Reed, R-Indiana, a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, publicly supported legalization on the campaign trail — a reversal from the position of former Gov. Tom Corbett. Political analysts say the medical marijuana could provide a much-needed early victory for the Wolf administration.

“I’m optimistic that it will make it to my desk,” he said, during his tour of the Farm Show. “The question is in what form.”

Of course, this is not the first year that supporters envisioned the bill’s passage.

At this time last year, Dana Ulrich said, she expected to be able to use cannabis oils to treat Lorelei within the year, but instead she saw the bill sustain one crushing blow after another.

“The medical cannabis bill we had was really severely cut,” she said. “That was devastating for us to see what was a very good bill now being demolished.”

Leach said the new bill would fix a key problem with last year’s legislation. At the time, several amendments made prior to the Senate vote limited the number of conditions that could qualify for treatment.

“My preference, and this is the subject of ongoing discussion, is not to lay out specific conditions,” he said. “We’re not doctors; we don’t know.”

Sen. Daylin Leach mans a booth in support of medical marijuana on the fifth day at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The goal, Leach said, is to have a team of medical experts determine the parameters of the program, from which patients qualify for treatment to what form of cannabis should be administered. For example, he said, doctors typically advise cancer patients to inhale the medication while those with seizures typically receive it via oil under the tongue.

“I think, at the end of the day, we’ll have a much better bill than what we passed in the Senate,” he said.

Supporters have been ramping up outreach in anticipation for the bill’s reintroduction, which is now named Senate Bill 3. At the Farm Show, for example, supporters had a booth where they took names and email addresses of supporters who can be called upon later to encourage their legislators to pass the bill.

“We’d like to pass this unanimously,” Leach said. “There’s no rational reason for people to be suffering, which is why we passed it 43-7 in a bipartisan fashion last time.”

Dana Ulrich said it’s important to give lawmakers a human face for the legislation.

One of the first volleys in the renewed push for medical marijuana will come at a press conference Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda. Dana plans to be there.

Since she was diagnosed at 22 months, Lorelei has been on 18 different seizure medications with varying degrees of effectiveness. Those prescriptions come major side effects, ranging from low platelet counts — which could impede blood clotting — to life-threatening rashes to psychiatric reactions like self-harming behaviors. Some of them also resulted in withdrawal symptoms once Lorelei was taken off the medication.

“When you see people withdrawing off drugs in rehab, that’s what these kids go through,” she said. “They go through more than a lot of people know and understand.”

Dana said she’s hopeful that cannabis could help control Lorelei’s symptoms with fewer of those adverse side effects. The compassion that legislators have shown to her cause — she speaks with Folmer several times a week — is heartening, she said.

“This year, I’m just darn optimistic,” she said. “I really feel like this year, we stand a very, very good chance.”

 

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The cruel reign of Tom Corbett is OVER!

Posted by on Jan 21, 2015 in Blog

History is being made right now.  Tom Wolf was sworn in and begins his first full day as the new Governor of Pennsylvania. The cruel reign of Tom Corbett is OVER!

A new day is dawning in Pennsylvania. Within a few short months we will finally pass a medical cannabis bill, SB 3. Within a short period of time after that we will pass SB 50, the Pennsylvania Industrial Hemp Act. Not long after we will pass statewide decriminalization of cannabis. Tom Wolf will sign all three of these bills.

Tom Wolf can not and will not do it by himself. If he is to succeed it is going to take a tremendous grass roots effort to force the change that we have fought so hard for and for so long.

We will do so. We will fight now like never before. We will do smart, targeted and effective activism. We will win.

Good morning Pennsylvania.

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Folmer leads push for Industrial Hemp

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Blog

Amazing article in Lebanon Daily News!

We know Sen. Mike Folmer has been leading the fight to allow medical marijuana use in Pennsylvania. In this new session of the Legislature, he’s also pushing for legalization of industrial hemp for state farmers.

It’s as good, if not better, an idea as the medical marijuana legislation, which we have and continue to back.

Industrial hemp was outlawed in the United State in 1937, at the same time marijuana was railroaded into illegality by a combination of politics, ignorance and some slick anti-marketing.

Folmer, a Republican, is teaming with Berks Democratic Sen. Judy Schwank in introducing Senate Bill 50, the Industrial Hemp Bill.

“This is a no-brainer,” Folmer said in an article that appeared on the Keystone Cannabis Coalition website. See it at http://goo.gl/92GKKY.

He’s right. There are 19 states that have laws in line with the 2014 Farm Bill, which allows for pilot programs for the growth of industrial hemp. Eight states go farther, promoting its growth. Pennsylvania should look to be one of the latter programs that would allow for wider, faster expansion of the growth of this crop.

The array of uses for industrial hemp are stunning. It can be used in fabric, in foods and beverages, as an ingredient in biofuel, for plastics, in building materials and more. It grows quickly and easily and is easy on the environment. Unlike it’s more high-profile cousin, industrial hemp does not contain significant levels of THC, the substance that provides pot users with their high.

We made a horrible mistake outlawing industrial hemp decades ago. It’s past time that we rectified that mistake and allowed for its full re-introduction as a cash crop.

Legalizing industrial hemp would help Pennsylvania farmers, and that is something that Folmer is also enthusiastic about.

“It will help domestic farming, it will help our economy, and it will help our environment,” Folmer said in an interview that appeared on the Fox 43 website at http://goo.gl/w99tSI.

“It’s a win for Pennsylvania agriculture to allow our farmers to stay on their farm, be profitable; gives them another cash crop; it’s a great cover crop,” he added.

Pennsylvania has a history of hemp farming. Folmer and Schwank’s legislation would allow it to have a future as well — one it deserves.

This could, and should, be a big year for hemp and its varieties in Pennsylvania. This should be the year — and it is inexcusable to have it otherwise — that medical marijuana, with all its proven benefits, becomes legal. And it should also be the year we return to the production of industrial hemp for all of its beneficial uses. We still argue for full decriminalization, but wins are wins.

When those bills pass, moving into the future, there will be deserved thanks that will go out to Lebanon County’s Sen. Mike Folmer for leading the charge.

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Lawmakers push hemp legalization in Pennsylvania

Posted by on Jan 11, 2015 in Blog

Awesome coverage of the Pennsylvania Hemp Conference by CBS21! Watch the video here

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make it possible to grow industrial hemp in Pennsylvania.

“This is a no-brainer,” says Senator Mike Folmer.

The republican from Lebanon County is teaming up with Senator Judy Schwank, a democrat from Berks County, in introducing Senate Bill 50, which they call “Industrial Hemp Bill.”

“As a fiscal conservative, one who would like to make sure that we’re spending every dollar as efficiently as possible, this would allow farmers to stay on the farm.”

According to the Hemp Industries Association, in 2012, the U.S. hemp industry was valued at $500 million. The bipartisan bill hopes to tap into a multi-million dollar industry. The 2014 federal farm bill authorizes pilot programs for industrial hemp.

At Saturday’s press conference to announce the bill, products made from industrial hemp were on display, “this will be a cash crop for them. It’s so diverse you can make plastic from it, you can make wood from it, you can make cement from it, you can make paper from it, and you can make cloth fiber from it. It’s also a pretty dense biofuel potential also,” explains Senator Folmer.

Adam Thompson runs a group called the Pennsylvania Hemp Company. It represents farmers with a desire to add hemp to their crops, “with one crop farmers will be able to multi diversify In a number of different industries.”

Hemp was outlawed along with marijuana in 1937. Hemp comes from the same cannabis plant marijuana comes from. The big difference is hemp has low levels of THC which is what gives people a high when they smoke or consume marijuana.

Thompson explains industrial hemp could help farmers diversify their crops.

“As the industry progresses and were able to utilize more of the plant We’re going to have an intense demand for all of the fiber Oil they hempseed oil and so on and so forths,” said Thompson.

Senator Folmer explains passage of the bill is good for the state.

“It’s a win for Pennsylvania farmers and it’s a win for Pennsylvania’s economy. It is going to be a win for Pennsylvania’s environment,” said Folmer.

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