KCC 2016 Year in Review – Pa Cannabis Reform

Posted by on Dec 31, 2016 in Blog

2016-year-in-review-One year ago I wrote “2015 was an epic, monumental year in the Pennsylvania cannabis reform movement and Keystone Cannabis Coalition was right in the middle of it once again as in years past”. The blog post is a good read to see a review of the events that led us to the victories of this year. You can read it here.

A year later I think it is safe to say that 2016 was even more epic, even more monumental and once again Keystone Cannabis Coalition was right there in the middle of it.

12661755_10206366698111158_7293360441956170487_nIn January we dove head first into the new year. Representing the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council we spent nine days at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show in Harrisburg along with founding PaHIC president Geoff Whaling and other board members and volunteers.

We spent one day setting up the stand and then worked for 8 days straight from morning until night talking to thousands of farmers, legislators, members of the media and general public about the hemp legislation we were trying to pass. It was the debut event for PaHIC, an organization entirely for the promotion of a thriving hemp industry in the state. This allows us to keep the issue of hemp away from the more controversial issue of cannabis. At the end of our nine day adventure we were exhausted but excited. Not only was our hemp bill moving but so was the medical cannabis bill.

12717547_1140771522599538_6070316027420738909_nOn February 8 we participated in a sit-in organized by Campaign for Compassion. All of us were risking arrest. About a hundred of us plopped down on the floor. We sat in silence for nine minutes, a minute for every month that we had been waiting since the state senate first voted in favor of medical cannabis. Then we sat for another 9 minutes while individual patients told their stories of suffering and how cannabis could help them.

For many people there, this was the most radical thing they had ever done. Simple patients, frustrated with the legislative process that threatened to hold up their medicine forever. We were pleasantly surprised when Governor Tom Wolf came to join us! Our former governor Tom Corbett would have had us arrested but Wolf embraced us and our cause. It was profoundly moving.

Three days after the sit-in on February 11, I made my way to the Harrisburg City Council meeting where they were discussing their new cannabis decriminalization efforts. I gave a five minute speech and submitted my written comments. KCC supported the ordinance they were considering in principle, however we argued that their fines should be lowered and we opposed the third strike provision. You can read my speech here.

In late February Erica and I went to the Landis Valley Farm Museum to film a media segment for WFMZ who gave us excellent coverage regarding our hemp bill.

On February 23, KCC teamed up with Deb Guy and Lancaster NORML to speak to Lancaster City Council and ask them to consider a decriminalization ordinance. This was a continuation of our efforts with council but so far we have not seen results. We intend to resume our important work in Lancaster and if we cannot get an ordinance passed we will push for a Resolution of Support for Statewide Decriminalization. You can read my speech here.

Four days later on February 27, I gave a two hour lecture on the history and future of the hemp industry in Pennsylvania at the Landis Valley Farm Museum. It was a part of a winter workshop organized by the Back Yard Fruit Growers of Pa.

On March 3, Erica and I teamed up with Deb Guy of Lancaster NORML and met with the Lancaster City Police Chief Sadler. Our meeting went well. He gave us about 1 ½ hours and we had a wide ranging discussion concerning cannabis decriminalization, the consequences of arrests and the support of the public for reform. Sadler was not opposed to the idea and promised to remain publicly neutral. We got good coverage in the press concerning the meeting. You can read my report here.

On March 10 it was back to Harrisburg to speak at Harrisburg City Council’s public hearing on their decriminalization. I again voiced the support of KCC to the principles of what they were trying to do and voiced some dissent while encouraging them to go further. You can read my speech here.

1929772_870024963120026_5226025248960109608_nIn mid-March Erica and I spent three days in a row in the capitol. On the Monday of March 14 we attended the press conference organized by Christy Billet and her group Pa. for Safe Access. The next day medical cannabis activists were invited to the Governor’s office for a meeting with Governor Wolf again. Erica and I posed for our fourth picture with Wolf.

In the evening we watched over the House floor from the gallery as the Pa. House of Representatives debated the medical cannabis bill. On Wednesday, March 16 we got to witness history on two separate occasions. In the afternoon we watched our hemp bill, SB50 pass the state senate by a 49-0 vote! It was an overwhelming and exciting feeling but it wasn’t over yet. In the evening we watched the House of Representatives vote 149-43 in favor of medical cannabis! It was a very exciting time. I chronicled the experience with more flavor in this blog post.

12049699_566207766879642_5858779507034704511_nThe next week we were back at work on our industrial hemp bill. Under the banner of Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council on March 21st we organized a hemp lobby day. Erica and I, PaHIC president Geoff Whaling, other members of the board and volunteers along with members of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union set up an impressive educational display in the lobby of the capitol and we each broke up in small teams and lobbied members of the Pa. House of Representatives.

On March 22, Erica and I along with Susan Love met with the Pa. House Majority Leader David Reed to ask him to bring the hemp bill to the floor for a vote. After the meeting with Reed we met with Representative Russ Diamond and then went for a meeting with members of the Pa. Department of Agriculture.

12920279_573538462813239_4844282990669246036_nOn March 31 we set up a stand for the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council at the York Agricultural Banquet. This was our second year with a hemp stand at the event but our first year representing PaHIC.

Next week it was back in the capitol in Harrisburg. In our meeting with Majority Leader Reed we had been assured that he would bring up the House hemp bill introduced by Rep. Russ Diamond for a vote on April 4th.

12974473_574810372686048_5931607661954334838_nSo we went to Harrisburg for three days in a row until finally on Wednesday, April 6th we watched from the gallery overlooking the floor of the House of Representatives while they passed HB967 by a 187-0 vote!
We were amazed that even vigorous foes of medical cannabis voted for our hemp bill, including Matt Baker and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai. Every single Democrat and every single Republican voted Yes for hemp! It was a major victory.

DeptOfAgOn April 13th, representing Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, we again met with the high ranking leaders and members of the Pa. Department of Agriculture to discuss the implementation of the hemp program, once it is passed. The conversation lasted at least 1 ½ hours and much was discussed in this positive meeting.
Earlier in the morning Erica and I participated in the press conference organized by Campaign for Compassion. I gave a five minute speech urging the House to finally vote on the medical cannabis legislation. As soon as our meeting with the department of ag was over we made a beeline back to the capitol just in time to see the Pa. House of representatives finally pass medical cannabis legislation! It was a fantastic day!

11248346_894031260719396_1573653828272338086_nFour days later was the day we had all been waiting for, the day that Governor Wolf would finally sign the medical cannabis legislation into law! The date was set for Sunday, April 17 and the day was beautiful. Hundreds of people gathered for the signing. In fact, far more people showed up for the signing than ever came to the rallies and hearings. The public showed that this was indeed very popular and the feeling was ecstatic and thrilling. Moments like this come once in a lifetime. Erica and I posed with Governor Wolf shortly after the signing.

13051521_10209096978206823_862363711162382626_nOn April 18th Governor Wolf started a tour of key state reps and state senators offices to thank them for their bipartisan work on the medical cannabis legislation. Erica and I joined with members of the Campaign for Compassion for a press conference at the office of Sen. Mike Folmer in Lebanon. Before the event we got to have a nice conversation with Governor Wolf. I told him all about hemp again, of course.

13043274_10153373332785672_3657298268486486054_nThe next day, on April 19 Erica and I went to State Senator Daylin Leach’s office in Montgomery County. There before the press conference we again had a good conversation with the governor. Campaign for Compassion was well represented at the meeting and it received great press, as did the press conference the day before.

On May 2nd, Erica and I made the three hour journey to Penn State. We met up with our friends Adam A. Thompson and Josh Leidecker and the four of us met with members of the Pa. Department of Agriculture and staff from Penn State, plus a professor from the UK who breeds hemp to discuss the possibility of getting a test plot of hemp in the ground this year. The talk went well.

That same night, the borough of State College was talking about their decriminalization ordinance. Since we were in the area we made sure to weigh in. I was quoted in this article. State College ultimately passed their decriminalization ordinance on August 2 – the 79th anniversary of federal “marihuana” prohibition. KCC was not successful in getting them to compromise with a better ordinance but it is still a step in the right direction.

13124826_1200646229954483_1632109534631880941_nOn May 8th I went to Philadelphia for the march organized by Philly NORML. We marched past city hall and then went to a local park where I got to give a speech and lead the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Chris Goldstein. At the event Representative Jordan Harris announced the introduction of his bill to fully legalize cannabis in Pa.

On May 19 Harrisburg City Council held a discussion on the decrim proposal and once again I and other members of KCC attended and spoke. The conversation lasted for nearly two hours. It was a fascinating discussion as the decriminalization ordinance was moved along.

On May 26, Erica and I drove to Wilkes Barre for a meeting of the Luzerne County Council. They were considering a county-wide ordinance decriminalizing cannabis. Our friend Kenny Small was there and Carl Romanelli, Jeff Zick and I spoke in favor of passing the ordinance. Council agreed with decriminalization but after consulting with their legal team decided they did not have the authority to go ahead. I disagreed with them and was quoted in this article.

13339671_10208199565100090_4578453532781027735_nOn June 6th we organized an event in the Capitol to celebrate Hemp History Week under the guise of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council. In addition to the speeches of Erica and I we were also joined by Senator Judy Schwank, Senator Mike Folmer, Rep. Russ Diamond, PaHIC board members Riley Cote and Adam Thompson, Hannah Smith-Brubaker of the Pa. Department of Agriculture and Michael Kovach of the Pa. Farmers Union. We also read a statement by Governor Wolf and prepared remarks by Rep. Marty Flynn. The event also pushed for the final passage of the hemp bill.

13406805_10154709088043797_4398311356281688867_nA week later, on June 14 we were back at the capitol. Andy Hoover of the Pennsylvania branch of the ACLU alerted Chris Goldstein that a dangerous version of decriminalization was suddenly being considered in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill was being revived after laying dormant for a year. We scrambled and got our members to flood the members of the committee with calls and emails opposing the bill. Chris Goldstein organized a press conference. We attended and I spoke forcefully against the bill and in favor of Ed Gainey’s Bill, HB2076. We were joined by other heroes such as Randall Robertson and Chuck Homan. To make a long story short, our efforts were a success and we killed the bill! You can read more about it in my blog post from June.

We certainly were busy but there was no time to rest. Two days later Erica and I loaded up the Jeep and drove to New York City and set up an outstanding booth for the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo at the Javitz Center in Manhattan. We were up there June 16-19th.

The New York event was amazing. To see the industry so well represented on the east coast was refreshing. Industry innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders from all over the country converged into an amazing, mind blowing event, especially for a region still living under reefer madness and the force of law. After three days in New York we came back to Pa. with a new perspective.

In late June we got word that Harrisburg City Council was going to vote on the decriminalization bill. The efforts of KCC really made a difference and we helped persuade them to compromise and craft a better bill. You can read about it in my blog here.

On July 5th I traveled to Harrisburg and watched joyfully as Harrisburg City Council unanimously passed their decriminalization ordinance. The policy has been in effect for nearly a half year and the sky has still not fallen in Harrisburg!

On July 8 Erica and I attended the Regulatory Palooza organized by State Senator Daylin Leach. The event was attended by hundreds of people, most of them potential investors and stakeholders in the new emerging medical cannabis industry. There were many panels and input and feedback was taken to provide guidance to the Pa. Department of Health in helping to create and implement their new program.

Two days later, on July 10, 2016 we scored our most major victory yet, the industrial hemp bill that we had worked so hard on passed its final victory by a vote in the Pa. House of Representatives 187 to ZERO! We were ecstatic. Ten days later, Governor Wolf signed the bill into law. You can read about it in my blog here.

13620369_10207529039848975_345355735122146670_nOn July 12th we had a great event right here in our hometown of Reading.  Music icon Melissa Etheridge came to personally thank the advocates who helped pass medical cannabis and industrial hemp legislation in the state. Also announced at the event was the creation of AgriNext, Pennsylvania Harvest and Keystone Green, business that will help build these new emerging industries.

13770278_954969884625533_6867634126966517493_nOn July 23rd Erica and I represented KCC once again at the fifth annual Hemp Heals Festival organized by Riley Cote of the Hemp Heals Foundation. We set up a stand along with Jesse Nova of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Cannabis Network. I got to make a speech from the stage again to the largest crowd I’ve ever spoken to. There were at least 6,000 people and I helped rile them up. It was great fun!

On July 28 Erica and I started our morning with what was billed as a “stakeholder’s meeting” with the Pa. Department of Agriculture as the sought input to create and implement rules and procedures for overseeing the hemp program. The meeting lasted for several hours. It was attended by about two dozen people and the department received great advise and council from PaHIC and others in attendance.

13879459_10208596235216595_8477068116049780105_nWhen the meeting was over I caught a ride with Gabriel Chorno down to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention. N.a Poe organized a march and rally that day and we went down and marched in the rain while meanwhile in a historic move actually wrote cannabis reform into the platform of the Democratic Party. I spoke and I smoked cannabis with everybody else but the Philly Cops had no problems with us and considered it free speech.

From August 15-19 Erica and I worked a stand representing the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council at Ag Progress Days in Penn State. It was bit exhausting but well worth it. We had many fascinating conversations with all sorts of people doing interesting and innovative things in agriculture and are fascinated with the idea of working with hemp and seeing how it can fit in with what they are doing.

On August 24th, Erica and I headed down to Philadelphia for a speech I gave for the 252nd annual meeting of the American Chemical Society about the history of cannabis and hemp in Pa. and about the work that KCC is doing. I was invited by Dr. Jahan Marcu who had helped organize the event. (The day just happened to be on Erica’s birthday but she still went)

In September KCC teamed up with MPP and surveyed all incumbents and challengers with regard to their positions on cannabis reform. With an eye to the elections we published the voting guide to our members.

Also in September we did some of our most important work. On September 21 Brianne Archer, Erica and I sat down with Reading Mayor Wally Scott. We had a half hour conversation where we explained to him our intention of introducing a decriminalization ordinance and the reasons to support the effort.

We had already been talking to members of Reading City Council for two years but after our conversation with the mayor councilwoman Donna Reed and councilman Chris Daubert asked to see the ordinance we intended to pass. Within days Erica submitted a fantastic ordinance and next thing it’s all over the news.

We caused quite a commotion in Reading. There were numerous media pieces that week and on September 26 Erica, Brianne and I went to address Reading City Council along with several other supporters. No one spoke in opposition and the crowd was on our side. The mayor asked them to drop the ordinance but city council voted 4-3 to keep it on the agenda! Decrim is still alive in Reading.

We are having a town hall on decriminalization in Reading on January 19 with Rep. Mark Rozzi.

On October 1st KCC teamed up once again with our good friend Jesse Nova of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Cannabis Network and Jeff Zick for our third annual rally in Wilkes Barre. The event was not as well attended as we would like but it was a major success in getting the word out through four different media organizations that showed up and gave us excellent coverage.

14724408_1752435788354215_7835779738946484143_nOctober 19, that was the day of the year though! Although Governor Wolf had already officially signed the hemp bill three months earlier, it was decided that he would hold a special signing ceremony where the hemp bill would be printed on hemp paper and signed with hemp pen. It was meant to be a photo-op for the governor, senators and representatives who made it happen and the advocates who advanced the bill.

14657325_657523411081410_9119046663631990799_nUnbeknownst to Erica, I made special plans and they unfolded perfectly. Governor Wolf talked to me briefly beforehand and gave me the go-ahead, indicating that he had been informed of my plan. He gave me the signal to speak and I took out a prepared speech, which completely surprised Erica because we had not discussed me speaking at the event.

14670700_10207942595105915_3113682523248699670_nAfter reading a five minute speech where I detailed the history of hemp with marriage ceremonies, I asked Erica to come forward. Then I asked her to marry me in a Pennsylvania hemp field and she said YES! I placed a hemp ring on her finger to the applause of the governor, State Senators Schwank and Fomer, Rep. Russ Diamond, Marty Flynn and members of the Dept. of Agriculture. It was an awesome moment!

On November 3 we went to Philadelphia where Erica conducted a workshop on the newly passed hemp legislation. The event was organized by Stephanie Thomas for her chapter of Women Grow. It was well attended and after Erica’s power point presentation we had many fascinating and productive conversations.

To be honest, this is not even a complete list of what we did in 2016. In addition to everything mentioned we attended other meetings and did a heck of a lot of work behind the scenes. Especially Erica as she works towards actually building a hemp industry in Pennsylvania. Both of us appeared in numerous television, radio and print media pieces over the year, including our most recent podcast last week with Skip Shuda of Green Rush Advisors. I’ve also been of Lefty Grime’s show a few times this year. I’ll probably remember more of what we did after this is published.

In addition to all of this activity we have continued to keep everyone informed and up to the minute on where we stand and everything that goes on with regard to cannabis and hemp reform in the state of Pennsylvania. I invite everyone to read the blogs in our archives on the KCC website and join our Facebook discussion page.  Also stay tuned to our main Facebook page.

So, all in all 2016 was a fantastic year for Keystone Cannabis Coalition and cannabis and hemp reform in the state of Pennsylvania! Nothing happens in a vacuum though. We depend on all of YOU. We asked for donations and it was your funds that have made all that we have done and achieved possible. So THANK YOU ALL!

thFQLN8RNN2017 is going to be the year that we make a major effort to pass statewide decriminalization of cannabis in Pennsylvania. If we are going to be as successful as we have been in past battles then we need to raise funds for this year’s effort. I hope all of you who have supported us in the past can continue to do so by making a generous donation towards our efforts.

Thank you KCC, Happy Holidays and a Happy NEW YEAR!

Les Stark
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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