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Senators tout 'bipartisan' bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pa.

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Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 11:15 a.m.

A groundswell of support to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania likely would stall at the governor's door.

Legislation introduced on Tuesday from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, and Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, would legalize medical marijuana in situations where a physician approves.

But speaking at an unrelated event in Mt. Lebanon, Gov. Tom Corbett underscored the need for federal drug regulation on the issue of legalizing cannabis.

“We must look to see where the FDA is on this before we consider anything beyond that,” Corbett said.

A February 2013 poll from Franklin & Marshall College found 82 percent of Pennsylvanians favor allowing adults to legally use medical marijuana if recommended by a physician. Twenty states and Washington have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said that if the Legislature passes Senate Bill 1182, “The governor would make a decision based upon the legislation that would reach his desk.” But the governor is interested in monitoring a non-psychoactive strain of marijuana called Charlotte's Web. The plant contains high amounts of cannabidiol, an element of the marijuana plant that can be distilled into an oil used to combat and control seizures.

“In the event the FDA would conduct a clinical trial on Charlotte's Web, he would be interested in the results of that,” Pagni said.

Leach and Folmer's legislation would legalize medicines beyond Charlotte's Web, making marijuana available to patients with cancer, glaucoma, seizures or other specified chronic conditions. The legislation would set up an advisory board charged with overseeing the industry and empowered to regulate farms, dispensaries and the application process.

Heather Shuker, a Valencia resident, is actively lobbying lawmakers in favor of the bill. Her 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, has at least 100 seizures a week, even with daily medication. In recent weeks, Hannah has become unable to walk, and Shuker carries her around.

In Colorado, Charlotte's Web was effective in stopping seizures nearly altogether in children with similar conditions.

“I strongly feel that things are going to happen,” Shuker said. “I just don't think they're going to be quick enough for Hannah.”

Lawmakers have given her mixed reactions, from spending time to learn about the science behind medical marijuana to sending her news articles about teens abusing the drug.

Leach and Folmer's bill marks the first time in Senate history that a medical marijuana bill has been drafted with bipartisan support.

“The use of medical cannabis is an alternative option to addictive prescription drugs and a good option that the citizens of Pennsylvania should have,” Folmer said in a prepared statement.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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