One year after medical marijuana legalization, advocates, Governor Wolf, “move forward”

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- One year after they won their fight to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, advocates joined Governor Tom Wolf and other state legislators to celebrate their accomplishment, while remembering the journey still ahead.

Senate Bill 3, now Act 16, became law on April 17, 2016. It announced the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, and the steps needed to implement the law. Governor Wolf signed the bill in a public ceremony at the State Capitol. On Monday, many of the families who fought to legalize the medicine a year ago joined him for a ceremony to honor its one year anniversary.

"We are on schedule to do this just as everyone expected," Wolf said. "This shows what you can do in a democracy when you have engaged citizens."

Wolf says the state's medical marijuana program is on schedule to be completed by early-2018. The most recent step was the application process for growers and dispensaries. The deadline passed on March 20. The Department of Health has said they expect to take 90 days to go through the applications before making an announcement.

"Some people were saying with the applications, we should give an extra couple weeks, but I have heard no complaints saying we're not going fast enough," Wolf said.

Pennsylvania will be split into six regions for growers and dispensaries. Southcentral Pennsylvania, which includes Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Mifflin, Juniata, Lebanon, Perry, and York Counties, will have four growers and two dispensaries. Lancaster County, which is a part of the Southeast Pennsylvania region, which includes Philadelphia, will have 10 growers and two dispensaries.

Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), one of the prime sponsors of SB3, says he continues to remain active in the medical marijuana process, adding that hundreds of the applications received by the Department of Health are from qualified candidates.

"It's going to be a really hard choice," Folmer said.

Advocates, like Christy Billett, who runs the group Pennsylvanians for Safe Access, applauded Wolf's administration for keeping the legalization process on schedule.

"Overall, the process is going light speed compared to other states," Billett said. "They were good at putting time frames in the bill to make sure it was a continually moving process."

Billett referred to the group at the Capitol on Monday as her "Canni-family"; a group which she says started largely as strangers two years ago, but all with the common goal of legalizing medical marijuana.

Like many families, this one has grown, gotten older, and perhaps a bit wiser. Some family members pass away, like Randy Robertson. A longtime advocate from Camp Hill, Robertson found a way to take medical marijuana before it was legal in Pennsylvania. He died after a battle with cancer in late 2016.

"He was an inspiration and I need to carry on the efforts and be the advocate he was," said his wife, Molly.

Other family members grow stronger, like Angela Sharrer's daughter Annie, who suffers from epilepsy. Even though medical marijuana is not available yet in Pennsylvania, Annie, like many children, benefit from the Safe Harbor law, which allows Angela and other parents to administer the medicine to their children under 18 years old whenever and wherever they need it.

"We've been able to start treatment and take her off of pharmaceuticals she's on," Sharrer said.

On this day, Angela was with her 4-year-old son, Matty. He wore a green shirt which had a marijuana leaf transposed into a heart. The heart and the leaf are supposed to symbolize the cannabis oil being squeezed out of the leaf to help with Annie's seizures.

"It's heartwarming. We've had a lot of family and community support. It's been great," Sharrer said. "Now, we just have to move forward."