In a packed room at Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill in the Strip District, people enjoyed oysters on the half-shell and a few beers. Though the atmosphere was festive, speeches by Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach and a others focused on serious medical conditions that could be aided by medically-purposed marijuana.
Ninety-five people showed up to the meet-and-greet with the senator, hosted by Pittsburgh NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“I have always believed that people should get the best medicine that’s available for them. It’s something any of us would want if we were in that position,” Leach said in his speech. “I knew that in order for this to go anywhere, we had to make this a bipartisan thing.”
Produced by Ashley Murray
Pennsylvania got closer to medical marijuana legalization in 2014 than ever before. Republican state Sen. Mike Follmer joined Leach
and became crucial to getting nonpartisan support for the measure.
The senate passed the law in September
. That version, however, left out several conditions that the drug could be used for. When it was sent to the state House of Representatives, the bill was hijacked into committee by GOP House leader Mike Turzai
. It will now have to begin the legislative process again in January. In the meantime, Leach has sent a letter to Pennsylvania district attorneys asking them not to prosecute individuals
who can prove they are possessing marijuana for medical purposes. Sen. Leach says the Philadephia DA already said he will not prosecute cases involving medical marijuana usage. However, he said most haven’t replied yet.
“Prosecutors decide every day what cases to prosecute, what cases not to,” Leach said in his speech. “They can do this. They don’t need to be putting resources into arresting people [for medical marijuana].”
Left in limbo are thousands of Pennsylvanians who could use the medication for conditions ranging from glaucoma and PTSD to cancer and intractable epilepsy in children, which can cause the sufferer hundreds of seizures every week and cannot be controlled by treatments.
Heather Shuker spoke at the event about her daughter Hannah Pallas who has severe intractable epilepsy.
“It was so important for Sen. Leach to come out and let the community know we’re not going to back down from getting this legalized in Pennsylvania,” Shuker said.
Shuker’s daughter suffers more than 100 siezures per day and is currently in critical condition at a local hospital.
“It’s important to note that I’m not fighting for just the legalization for my daughter,” Shuker says. “We’re fighting for people with cancer, PTSD, severe and chronic pain, Crohn’s Disease. The government should let the doctors be doctors, and that’s one of our biggest things.”
There is at least anecdotal evidence that cannabidiol, an extract from the marijuana plant, can be helpful for children with this condition. Most of that evidence has come from Colorado, where marijuana use of all forms is legal. Parents there have said that the drug has brought about miraculous changes in children, and in December, the Food and Drug Administration granted approval for a New York University study on the drug's effect on childhood epilepsy.
Leach said the optimistic timeline for the bill is spring of 2015. Leach said the legislative body will need to work to create a “fair” process by which new medical conditions could be added as scientific research on medical marijuana grows. Sen. Leach says Governor-Elect Tom Wolf is on board.
“What a profile in courage this is,” Leach said. “There’s a lot of issues I’m involved in, but if the only thing I can do for the rest of my career is to make sure that people like Heather got medicine they need for people like Hannah, I would consider that a career well-spent.”