Medical marijuana could get Pa. Senate panel vote soon

     Sydney Michaels, 4, looks up at her dad, Paul, in January at Pennsylvania's Capitol Building where they were pushing for  legalization of  medical marijuana. Sydney's mother, Julie, says her daughter, who suffers from seizures, might benefit from oil extracted from marijuana. (AP photo/Marc Levy)

    Sydney Michaels, 4, looks up at her dad, Paul, in January at Pennsylvania's Capitol Building where they were pushing for legalization of medical marijuana. Sydney's mother, Julie, says her daughter, who suffers from seizures, might benefit from oil extracted from marijuana. (AP photo/Marc Levy)

    A measure to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania could be ready for a state Senate committee vote this month, supporters say.

    The bill would set up state oversight of doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses, said Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, the Republican leading the charge for medical marijuana.

    “Whether you’re suffering from epilepsy, diabetes, various forms of cancer, post-traumatic stress syndrome – I could go on,” Folmer said.

    The medical treatments could contain the entire marijuana plant — not just an oil extract, as has been discussed recently by advocates in talks with Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration.

    “I don’t want to limit that. I want this to be a whole plant scenario,” Folmer said. “Or else we’re just going to be helping a very small group.”

    Folmer expressed confidence the bill could pass a vote in the full Senate. But prospects aren’t as rosy in the House, where GOP leaders remain opposed.

    ‘Demon drug’

    A Senate committee hearing on the issue Tuesday was packed with supporters.

    Jahan Marcu, who studied the pharmacology of cannabis at Temple University, voiced his befuddlement that there is such opposition to some drugs, even when their chemical makeup and effect is no different from something else that’s widely accepted.

    “Ritalin and cocaine are pharmacologically identical,” said Marcu, by way of example. “They differ because one is from a plant and one is chemically synthesized. They have the same effect — that is, to increase dopamine in the brain.”

    “So, one is a demon drug and will forever change your personality and who you are,” Marcu said. “And the other can be prescribed to toddlers.”

    Silence on cannabis oil program

    Folmer’s broader medical marijuana legalization bill is separate from a narrower effort announced by  Corbett last month. That plan would begin a pilot program to provide a specific kind of marijuana oil extract to treat children with a severe form of epilepsy.

    Folmer said he doesn’t know where the governor’s plan stands.

    “I haven’t heard anything since he made that announcement,” said Folmer. “And mothers and parents who’ve met with him haven’t heard any details since, so I don’t know.”

    The governor’s office did not immediately respond a request for comment.

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