Pubdate: Fri, 02 May 2014
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2014 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Mackenzie Carpenter
Page: A-1


Stand Is Called Politically Shrewd, but Some Parents Say It's Too

In a major change of position, Gov. Tom Corbett has thrown his support
behind a very limited proposal to allow medical marijuana for sick
children in Pennsylvania, prompting praise from political strategists
and criticism from some families who believe it doesn't go far enough.

In a carefully worded statement issued Thursday, the Republican
governor said that heart-wrenching stories from families whom he had
met with privately helped persuade him to support use of and research
into an oil extracted from the marijuana plant, called cannabidiol, or
CBD, for treatment of seizure disorders in children.

In the past, Mr. Corbett has said he would veto any bill that crossed
his desk legalizing medical marijuana, although more recently he has
offered a more nuanced position, saying he was waiting for the federal
Food and Drug Administration to weigh in on the issue. While 21 states
and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana - albeit
in different degrees - very few if any FDA clinical trials have been
conducted to determine the efficacy and the safety of medical marijuana.

"I have been looking at this issue extensively over the past few
months and listening to many perspectives," Mr. Corbett said, noting
in his statement that he and his wife, Susan Corbett, met with parents
of children with Dravet syndrome and other seizure disorders Thursday
to "discuss a medically responsible proposal that would allow access
to cannabidiol in Pennsylvania."

CBD is an oil derivative of cannabis that is taken

"I have heard the concerns and heartbreaking stories of these families
and want to help. However, we must address this issue in a way that
helps these families, but also protects the public health and safety
of all Pennsylvanians," Mr. Corbett said, adding that he will propose
legislation establishing a pilot program with children's hospitals in
the state, providing access to treatment for affected families and
allowing research into the oil's efficacy.

Bruce MacLeod, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, issued a
statement applauding the governor's proposal, saying, "Our
organization is in full support of medical research and believe this
is a better route than legislating medical treatment."

The proposal followed a hectic week at the state Capitol. On Monday,
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, one of two sponsors of a different
bill legalizing the use of medical marijuana by patients as
recommended by their physicians, stood on the rotunda steps and
threatened to lead a sit-in at Mr. Corbett's office with families
until the governor discussed the matter with them, "even if it meant
being dragged away by police. The children, their parents, and I were
willing to risk that to get sick children the proper medicine they

Corbett officials denied that the threat by Mr. Leach, who is running
for Congress in Pennsylvania's 13th District, had any role in the
governor's decision, noting that Mr. Corbett had been meeting with
families for months.

Politically, the move is "a win-win for the governor," said Republican
media strategist Charles Gerow.

"I think it's a really good move on the part of Gov. Corbett, both for
families with children who are suffering and a smart political move
that shows he's a compassionate, sensible leader who isn't stuck in a
rut hanging on to old views," Mr. Gerow said. "I honestly believe he
did this because it's the right thing to do, not because it's
politically popular."

Recent polls have shown a dramatic shift in support for medical
marijuana, noted Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall
College in Lancaster, Pa. According to a January poll, 85 percent of
Pennsylvanians support it, with majorities in Democratic and
Republican parties.

r. Corbett's four Democratic opponents in this fall's general election
support the legalization of medical marijuana and the
decriminalization of small amounts of non-medical marijuana.

"This puts him on safe ground," said Mr. Madonna, who noted that Mr.
Corbett's approval numbers remain perilously low. "He's got to be a
conservative, but he also has to broaden his appeal in a very tough
fiscal environment for him, so this is the kind of issue that allows
him to support something that's very popular."

But several families with children who suffer from seizures expressed
disappointment at the limits of the governor's proposal.

"This does not help," said Danielle McGurk of Beaver Falls, who has
four children, two of whom - Leah, 12, and Olivia, 9 - have Dravet
syndrome, a rare disease that causes severe seizures.

Ms. McGurk has been trying to wean her children off powerful
prescription drugs, including Valium and Atavan, but CBD will not be
effective in preventing seizures, while other forms of marijuana might
help more.

"He's still making THC and other components in marijuana illegal," she
said, ingredients that are much more helpful in weaning children off
of powerful prescription drugs," she said, adding that "a very small
amount of THC doesn't make you high."

Another parent, Amy Houk, recently moved to Colorado from New Castle
with her son Cameron, 6, who has severe intractable epilepsy, to take
advantage of "Charlotte's Web," a form of CBD extracted from a special
strain of marijuana believed to reduce epileptic seizures in children.

Little research has been done on its medical benefits, "and I know
it's not going to work for everyone, but I don't think I should have
to leave my home state to be able to help my children," she said.
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