Lawmakers react to updated medical marijuana program progress

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A dozen applicants that applied to grow and process medical marijuana in Pennsylvania have been approved by the state Department of Health.

The major step in developing a medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania will be followed by an announcement next week about the first round of dispensary permits.

“We live in a world of seizures, and epilepsy, and medications that don’t always work,” Cara Salemme said at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Salemme’s son has epilepsy. She says they have been fighting the disease and for medical marijuana for five years.

“We know he’s a complicated case and we’re going to need more access to comprehensive medication,” Salemme said.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health announced the 12 permits to businesses looking to grow medical marijuana.

“These are the cream of the crop, the folks who won, the people who have every T crossed, and every I dotted,” Sen. Daylin Leach said.

Leach sponsored the medical marijuana bill which was signed into law last year.

In the south-central region, growers in Fulton and Franklin County were awarded permits; Ilera Healthcare in Waterfall and Grassroots Cannabis in Chambersburg.

“This is what we want for the state of Pennsylvania. We want a smooth transition to this industry, and we want the best people involved in getting this off the ground,” Leach said.

The Department of Health will spend the next six months helping the growers become operational. Growers cannot grow until the department tells them they are operational. The department also requires the growers to grow medical marijuana in an indoor, enclosed, secure facility.

“I’m going to stand at the counter and let an employee know that I’m there to pick up medicine for my son, finally,” Salemme said.

Leach began his fight for medical marijuana years ago. Following Tuesday’s progress update, he said in the end, it is still all about the patients.

“They’re going to leave their homes today and they’re going to start to build a grow facility, and we’re going to start getting medicine to patients,” Leach said.

The Health Department predicts patients will have access to medical marijuana in 2018.

Medical marijuana is not supported by all Pennsylvania lawmakers. Rep. Matt Baker is chairman of the House Health Committee. He released the following statement to ABC27 News:

“A past evaluation by several Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use.

Marijuana should not bypass the US process for drug approvals for medical use. All medications, particularly those containing controlled substances, should become available only after having satisfied the rigorous criteria of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. That process has been carefully constructed over the past century to protect patient health and safety. There are compelling reasons to hold “medical” marijuana to the same standard that has served our nation well for the past century. The state laws that approved marijuana as a “medicine” did so through a political process rather than through a scientific process. This is unwise not only for “medical” marijuana users but it sets a dangerous precedent for other “medicines” seeking to bypass the standard of proven safety and efficacy.”

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