Local Family Celebrates Passage of Compassionate Use of Cannabis Act
Mar 31, 2016 10:27AM
● By Vanessa Orr
Heather Shuker and Hannah
On Wednesday, March 16, the Pennsylvania House approved Senate Bill 3, which legalizes the use of medical marijuana in the state. At the time of this article, the bill was waiting to go back in front of the Senate, which approved the bill last May, to approve amended text before it goes before Gov. Tom Wolf, who is waiting to sign it. This action can’t come soon enough for the families that have been fighting for the bill’s passage for more than two years.
“I’m still in a fog; the news might hit me this weekend,” said Heather Shuker of Wexford, immediately after hearing of the 149 to 43 vote in favor of legalization. “I knew we had enough support if the House actually brought it to the floor for a vote and there was a lot of buzz at the Capitol, but I’m still in shock. We’ve gone through so many emotional ups and downs to get here.”
Shuker’s 12-year-old daughter, Hannah, suffers from severe intractable epilepsy, and began having seizures at around 4 months old. She averages 10 to 15 seizures a day, but on a bad day, can have between 50 to 100 grand mal seizures; a condition that her mother believes can be helped through the use of medical cannabis.
To this end, Shuker, and a number of other mothers from across the state whose children suffer from chronic conditions, created Campaign for Compassion to educate state lawmakers on the importance of passing SB3, the Compassionate Use of Cannabis Act. “We started the group in August of 2013 and it’s been a rollercoaster ride ever since,” said Shuker. “Happily, we’re on the fun part of the ride now.
“There are some things in the bill that aren’t the greatest, but we can work with it,” she added. “We’ve gotten over the biggest hurdle, and that is very exciting.”
According to a poll conducted by Robert Morris University in March 2015, 67.5 percent of Pennsylvanians support the legalization of medical marijuana; other polls, such as one released by Quinnipiac University in April of the same year found that number as high as 88 percent. But no one is more pleased with the law’s passage than Campaign for Compassion, who hope that medical cannabis will prove a safer alternative to the medicines that their children are currently taking.
“I feel that Hannah’s decline is not only a result of her seizures, but of the seizure medication that she’s on,” said Shuker. “I’m not saying that the medications don’t help her, because they do; but at the same time, they are causing her more harm.” Hannah’s current treatment includes an implanted vagal nerve stimulator as well as very high doses of benzodiazepines to try to lessen her number of seizures.
“We don’t know what the long-term risks are of using adult doses of very strong, non-FDA approved medicines on a growing child,” Shuker added. “Even Hannah’s doctors have agreed that she should have the option to try medical cannabis, but up until this point, their hands were tied.”
The bill, as approved, will allow patients with many different medical conditions to take advantage of medical marijuana for treatment; approved groups include individuals with epilepsy, cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, neuropathies, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), glaucoma and autism, among others. Those who are diagnosed as terminally ill with less than one year of life expectancy will also have access, no matter what their health condition.
While this is great news for families who have been anxiously waiting to find relief for their loved ones, there are still a few obstacles to cross before they can take advantage of this medical treatment. “I believe that it is 60 days after a bill is signed that it becomes law, and then it will still be 18 to 24 months before we’ll have access to it, because establishing the grow facilities and licensing will take a while,” said Shuker. “There are a lot of things to put into place.”
The bill enables the Department of Health, which will oversee medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, to approve 25 growers/processors and 50 dispensaries statewide.
Since the fight is almost over, Campaign for Compassion members can finally take a break from occupying the Capitol Building, which they did every day for several months, even going so far as to set up a mock waiting room in the rotunda. “We wanted them to understand that our children were losing their quality of life and suffering unnecessarily; they were dying,” said Shuker. “That’s why we worked so hard to get the votes.”
To learn more about Campaign for Compassion, visit www.campaign4compassion.com. To understand the struggles of a child with severe intractable epilepsy, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz7IyHzj5ag or www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbltI4pS3vQ. You can also visit Hannah’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/H2forMMJ.