Senator Mike Folmer recently traveled to Colorado to learn more about medical cannabis, which has been legal there since 2001.
Folmer is co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1182, which would legalize medical cannabis in Pennsylvania.
During his travels, Folmer met the co-founders of Realm Of Caring, a nonprofit group that provides medical cannabis to Colorado residents at a reduced cost.
"We have 400 patients in the program. We set the price at 5 cents a milligram, so we are keeping this as affordable as we can," said Paige Figi, co-founder Realm Of Caring.
Figi's daughter Charlotte was the first child to use a medical cannabis strain that gained Realm of Caring international attention. It is called Charlotte's Web and has been shown to reduce seizures in epileptic children. The strain is low in THC, the psychoactive part of the plant, and high in CBD.
Charlotte, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, has been using the medicine for over two years.
"She has about one or two seizures a month in her sleep, from 1,200 massive grand mal seizures a month, so well over 99 percent seizure control," Paige Figi said.
Before she started the medicine, which is given in an oil form under the tongue, Charlotte was in a wheelchair and on a feeding tube. The 7-year-old is now able to walk, talk and feed herself.
"I am hopeful," Figi said. "I have never seen something work on her for so long, not even close. She is not going to survive this syndrome. She probably will not live until adulthood, but we have a new lease on life. We have some time left with her."
Figi says more than 150 families have relocated to Colorado to access Charlotte's Web.
"We are seeing 70 to 75 percent efficacy, which is unheard of for medicine, with no side effects," Figi said.
The Patrick family moved to Colorado from Maine a month ago. Although medical cannabis is legal in their home state, they felt Charlotte's Web was the best option for their 20-month-old daughter Addie.
"Colorado is just a little further along than Maine is. The Stanley brothers, who developed Charlotte's Web, have been perfecting this strain that is high in CBD and low in THC, so we know exactly what it is that we are getting for Addie," said Meagan Patrick, Addie's mother. "The growing method is also very clean, it is organic. The processing is all done safely, so we know there are no other pesticides or chemicals in the medicine."
Addie is legally blind and was born with a brain malformation that causes seizures. She has been using cannabis oil for only a few weeks.
"Her seizures have been reduced by about 75 percent. She is smiling and laughing again," Patrick said. "Before, we were just carrying Addie's body through life with us and now she is interacting with our family and really just becoming a part of the world again."
Seven-year-old Madeline Gorman is from North Carolina. She and her mother, Liz Gorman, relocated to Colorado five months ago. Madeline developed seizures during chemotherapy to treat leukemia.
"I would say that I came out somewhat skeptical because she had failed 14 different treatments and brain surgery," Liz Gorman said.
Madeline has been using medical cannabis for five months.
"She was having hundreds of seizures a day for five years. Now, we have five on a good day and some days 20," Gorman said. "She is at about 80 percent reduction on average, which is really really amazing. Plus, she has been learning the whole time she has been here. She has been learning her letters and colors, and those were things we really did not think were possible."
The Realm of Caring is conducting its own clinical trials of Charlotte's Web in South America. The medicine cannot be be studied in the United States because marijuana is classified a Schedule I drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
"We have to change that fear, that stigma that was programmed into us. Instead of looking at this as an abusable street drug, we need to look at the potential benefits for people who have nothing left," Figi said. "The bill in Pennsylvania allows for this as a medicine. This is not an abusable situation. There is not anything to fear. People who are abusing marijuana, are already abusing it in Pennsylvania. This is not going to open a door to a gateway. Senator Folmer has been a huge champion for this. His bill is beautiful for Pennsylvania."
Senate Bill 1182 is scheduled for a second committee hearing on June 10.