Erie County Legislative Delegation Supports Medical Marijuana Legislation

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Pennsylvania - Christine Brann's 3-year-old son suffered hundreds of seizures a day until a physician prescribed a cocktail of medications that limit them to about five to 10 per day. A genetic mutation gave Garrett Brann a catastrophic form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, which gradually became resistant to the latest round of legal drugs that his neurologist can prescribe. Christine Brann and her husband, Eric, who live in Hummelstown, Dauphin County, are urging state lawmakers to approve a bill that would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and help people like their son.

Christine Brann, 41, a family law attorney, met Monday in Harrisburg with state Rep. Greg Lucas, of Edinboro, R-5th Dist., as part of a lobbying effort to persuade legislators to adopt the bill. She also attended a rally at the Capitol as the legislation gathers momentum. Persuasion doesn't appear to be needed when it comes to the legislative delegation from Erie County.

State Sen. Sean Wiley, of Millcreek Township, D-49th Dist., and state Reps. Patrick Harkins, of Erie, D-1st Dist.; Ryan Bizzarro, of Millcreek Township, D-3rd Dist.; Curt Sonney, of Harborcreek Township, R-4th Dist.; and Lucas all said they would support the legislation. State Rep. Flo Fabrizio, of Erie, D-2nd Dist., said he supports the concept of medical marijuana but hasn't seen the bill yet. "There's so much evidence out there about how much it helps children with epilepsy and others with chronic conditions," said Fabrizio, who has been lobbied by parents of epileptic children.

The state Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week. Wiley, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he is confident that the Senate will approve the measure and send it to the House. "I think you'll find there has been a groundswell of support for the medicinal use of cannabis across the state," Wiley said. "I think the biggest challenge on the issue is clarification of what this is and how it's going to be used. "And this is not meant to be used for recreational purposes. It's cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes only," Wiley said. "Put a dozen hippies in a room and give them the stuff, and the only thing you're going to get is a dozen disappointed hippies. That's the way it was explained to me, and I love (that explanation)," he said.

Wiley and most of the other lawmakers from Erie County aren't ready to support recreational use of marijuana. But as for medicinal purposes, Wiley said that a chemical would be extracted from the cannabis plant, a doctor or other provider would prescribe the medication and it would be dispensed from a pharmacy, hospital or other approved facility. Smoking medical marijuana would be banned, but it could be used in other forms, including extracted oil, edible products, ointment and vapor. Brann envisions that her son could take the medication in an oil form, ingesting it with either a dropper or a spoon.

She figures the medication would be administered two to three times a day, and also as a "rescue medication" to stop a seizure. Garrett suffers several forms of seizures, including myoclonic seizures, which Brann describes as a quick jerking motion for one or two seconds like a full-body hiccup, and grand mal seizures, which is a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. Brann said now is a critical time for her son. With Dravet syndrome, children between ages 3 and 5 start to see an increase in the frequency and duration of seizures, she said.

Brann said medical marijuana not only would decrease the frequency and duration of the seizures, but it would allow her son's brain to rest and give it a chance to develop normally. Garrett walks with an unsteady gait, can't speak well, can't run or jump, doesn't drink on his own and often can't eat without help, she said. He's also on a ketogenic diet -- high fat, low carbohydrates and low protein -- to help curb the seizures. Brann said she hopes for a day when Garrett isn't forced to eat a separate meal than the rest of the family, which includes her daughter, Kaitlyn, 7, who does not have epilepsy.

Public sentiment and a growing number of states are moving toward approving medical marijuana, which also could be used to relieve pain in some patients. A Mercyhurst University poll taken in February showed that 85 percent of Pennsylvanians support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. And while Colorado and Washington have approved the recreational use of marijuana, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett supports research and the use of a marijuana extract to treat severe seizures in children, but he opposes the current bill as going too far in legalizing what he views as a gateway drug, the Associated Press reported.

Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Tom Wolf, Corbett's Democratic opponent in the Nov. 4 election, issued a statement on the challenger's position: "Tom Wolf supports legalizing the use of medical marijuana because he believes we should not deny doctor-recommended treatments that could help people suffering from diseases or illnesses."

Lawmakers from Erie County support the medical marijuana movement. Sonney said there must be guidelines on usage, but added, "What the patients are really looking for is the oil or pill form to treat either epilepsy or some types of cancers, primarily. Those are the groups that I have heard the most from in the House. So I would absolutely support the medical marijuana in a pill or oil form."

Bizzarro said, "The science is there that it helps people ... including those suffering with terminal illnesses get back on the right track and ease their pain and suffering." Harkins said he supports the bill, too, but he doubts it would pass now in the Republican-controlled House even if it's approved in the GOP-controlled Senate. "I don't think there will be a vote before the election," when all 203 House seats will be on the ballot, he said. "It's too controversial (for some), and the extreme right wingers I don't think will go for it," he said.

Brann said she hopes the lawmakers at least vote on the bill, whether they support it or not. And she'd be willing to talk to any elected official about why they should adopt it. "(Garrett's) neurologist would love to try the medical marijuana. And so our goal is to allow the doctors here in Pennsylvania to be able to recommend the medical marijuana and not be precluded just because we happen to live in Pennsylvania," Brann said.



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