This is what advocacy looks like

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a comprehensive medical cannabis bill – SB 3.  It almost didn’t happen.

Pennsylvania’s legislature grappled with many of the same roadblocks seen in Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Nevada, Minnesota, New York, Hawaii, and so many other states.  There were political barriers, bureaucratic challenges, advocacy infighting, anti-marijuana group pressures, and old-fashioned reefer madness.  In the end, SB3 succeeded because of some moms.

Say hello to pure, raw, advocacy:

20160314_162300This is Pennsylvania’s Campaign for Compassion.  I had the pleasure of meeting some of their members last week when I visited the State Capitol in Harrisburg.  In their own words, this is what they do:

We are a Pennsylvania based community resource with the mission to educate the public, as well as our General Assembly, concerning the positive effects of the often misunderstood realm of cannabis treatment. Ultimately, our goal is to work towards comprehensive medical cannabis legislation in the state of Pennsylvania.

But this description fails to capture the unstoppable force they represent when they go office to office, changing the hearts and minds of legislators that may have never met someone whose life was turned around by the use of medical cannabis.

As an example of their significance, the Pennsylvania Senate had passed the medical cannabis legislation almost 10 months ago in May 2015.  Yet in an illustration of the ugly side of politics, the bill was bottled up in a House committee by a hostile representative, Matt Baker.

“I’ve had marijuana bills in my committee for years, and I’ve never moved them,” he said. “This should come as no surprise to anyone.”

What may have come as a surprise to Rep. Baker is that he was no match for the moms – many of whom have children with severe intractable epilepsy.

The bill was moved to a different committee away from Baker’s control, and ushered to passage by several champions including House Majority Leader David Reed with a commanding final vote of 149-43.  Nearly everyone credited the moms with the House passage.  The bill will soon make it back for concurrence by the Senate (with terrific sponsors Sens. Leach and Folmer) and is poised to be proudly signed by Governor Tom Wolf.

This phenomenon has played itself out in numerous states, including Illinois.  Our original legislation excluded epilepsy and seizure disorders from the list of eligible debilitating conditions.  This restrictive bill (sans epilepsy) passed with the slimmest of margins with 61 Yeas and 57 Nays.  Only one year later, after “the moms” organized to add epilepsy, SB2636 passed with 98 Yeas.

The takeaway?  Don’t mess with the moms…