Lolly Bentch-Myers is a mother of three and full-time activist with Pennsylvania's Campaign4Compassion. Her daughter, Anna, has Mesial Temporal Sclerosis, a brain condition that causes intractable epilepsy, insomnia, and autism. There are not many options for kids like Anna, or moms like Lolly.Medical cannabis has proven successful in treating seizures, without serious risks. The other option for Anna and Lolly is to remove the part of Anna's brain that is causing her condition. A temporal lobectomy has a 60-90% success rate, especially in the early years following surgery, but also carries high risks that must be weighed by patients and their families. In an interview for IVN, Lolly said that for her, the choice is clear, she wants access to cannabinoid treatments. Unfortunately, Federal classification of the cannabis plant as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, and the stigma attached to marijuana as a drug, are a persistent barriers to cannabinoid medication.
Lolly has been entrenched in a battle with the Pennsylvania legislature to gain legal access to medical cannabis for Anna, and others who can benefit from medical cannabis.
A June 2015 Franklin and Marshall poll showed that 87% of PA residents approve of medical marijuana. Another poll of PA physicians by the North East Journal of Medicine showed 96% of surveyed Pennsylvania doctors support cannabinoid options for their patients.
With all of this support, why can't the legislation pass?
Lolly said the problem getting this legislation through largely falls on apathetic citizens.
"Our house is broken." she says, "If the 87% of citizens and the physicians who support this bill would contact their representatives, this bill would pass."
In the meantime, Lolly and other parents and patients in Campaign4Compassion are doing the hard work of lobbying government, and the people.
She started her journey doing research and writing her legislators, encouraging them to support medical marijuana bills. A letter she got back from one representative quipped, "Sorry, but I don't condone 5 year olds smoking pot." Bentch-Myers was discouraged, but she says, after the Sanjay Gupta documentary on CNN, she thought she might get more traction.
Shortly after seeing the documentary Lolly saw another mom talking about medical marijuana on the news. She made contact and began her journey as an activist with other concerned parents and patients.
"We really are a close knit community," she said. "Some people think this is about getting high, but that is not the case. This is about getting well."
Lolly said a key to her successes has been kindness, and building broad bipartisan support.
"It is crucial in Pennsylvania to have a large network of support from the Republican Party," she explained.
About half of the sponsors of Senate Bill 3 are Republicans. Legislation passed the state Senate overwhelmingly in the summer of 2015, with a 40-7 vote. It then moved to the House where Speaker Mike Turzai (R) placed the bill in the Health Committee. The bill then stalled, as Health Committee Chair Matt Baker (R) flatly refused to bring the bill up for a vote, saying if passed, the bill would do more harm than good.
Baker's actions were arguably predictable, as he said himself:
"I've had marijuana bills in my committee for years, and I've never moved them. This should come as no surprise to anyone."
To Baker, it is not a matter of what the people want, but of what is right. He told the Morning Call, "Chairmen have a higher level of responsibility to make decisions on which bills are meritorious and ready to be voted upon."
Baker made it clear that he would not circumvent Federal or FDA approval of medical marijuana by allowing his state to make a vote on the issue. Voting on the issue, he said, would put a medical matter in the hands of legislators. He hinted that others might find a way to bring the vote anyway.
That is exactly what happened.
Lolly explained the emotional legislative relay that ended with the de facto death of PA Senate Bill 3:Nick Miccarelli (R)
filed a discharge resolution to get SB 3 out of Baker's committee and to the floor for a vote. As Miccarelli was ready to be called to follow through with his discharge, Baker moved to adjourn the session, and called a Healthcare Committee meeting. Baker's committee then voted to move SB 3 to the Rules Committee, effectively killing Miccarelli's discharge resolution.
At least the bill was out of Baker's hands. Supporters had a bit of hope. The Rules Committee, headed by Dave Reed (R), put together what Lolly described as "a class act bipartisan group who takes their job seriously" to study the issue and draft a new bill, or amendments.
Lolly said the group compiled "fantastic" recommendations, including a minimum of 25 growers, and an expanded conditions list. Unfortunately, none of the recommendations made it out of the Rules Committee, and after Speaker Truzai had an emotional breakdown, and walked out of a closed Republican caucus meeting on the bill, 197 amendments were piled onto SB 3.
Lolly fears that because of the unwieldy number of amendments on SB 3, the only way forward now was to craft a new bill, but Peter Schweyer (D), a member of the Rules Committee working group, told the Morning Call that the majority of the house supports the bill:
"There is a segment of the Republican caucus who will do everything to kill it, including Chairman Baker. But I also know a majority of House members support this, including a number of Republicans. I think all of us put way too much time and energy into this to let it go away."
Lolly echoed Schweyer. She said, despite the barriers, most of the legislature has been a joy to work with, and, "I am very persistent. I am not going to quit. I have invested too much time to give up."
She is looking forward to seeing this through so she can have the health care she needs for Anna, and spend less time as an activist and more time with her three kids.
Other citizens can help her and her cause, she says, by refusing to sign ballot petitions for legislators, unless they agree to support medical cannabis; visiting the Campaign4Compassion website to request a speaker for Rotaries and civic events, and calling the House of Representatives to voice their support.