Lydia Foster, 15, moved to Colorado last Fall with her mom Debbie, to try and get help with her epileptic seizures using medical cannabis. The treatment had some success but they moved back to their home near Gettysburg after four months because their family was split apart.
There's a large group of Americans who spend every day struggling with a serious debilitating illness. It's a mostly powerless and unheard group, and I'm a member.
Montel Williams, SoCal Pain Center
Sixteen years ago, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, my doctor told me I'd be in a wheelchair in four years and dead by 56.
Each and every day, for the past 16 years, I've faced intractable neuropathic pain that never goes away. Sometimes, it's hard to put on a brave face.
I put on a brave face in public and on TV, but, make no mistake, MS is a daily battle. The only reason I'm even able to even write this today is because my doctor, a world class neurologist, recommended medicinal marijuana.
To this day, it's the only therapy that works for me, and science has now proven why.
My story pales in comparison to those of many I've met across the country. These silent sufferers don't have a platform to share their struggles, and often, lack access or can't afford the necessary care.
This year, the Pennsylvania Senate passed excellent, comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the form of legislation sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, that enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support.
It passed that body on a 40-7 vote. The bill now languishes in the House Health Committee for one reason—the usual reason– backroom politics.
If put to a vote, the bill would pass, and the Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to sign it—meaning all that separates seriously ill and suffering Pennsylvanians from access to a critical treatment is political maneuvering.
There is talk of an alternate bill allowing low-THC, CBD focused (or Charlotte's web) therapy.
That particular strain of marijuana is indeed helpful to young children with epilepsy. But marijuana is a complex plant, and we can't fool ourselves into believing its medical benefits will be achieved by isolating individual elements.
CBD might be non-intoxicating and might work for a small percentage of the sick and suffering, but not for individuals like me, or cancer patients undergoing chemo, or anguished veterans returning from the battlefield with PTSD or severe intractable pain.
Marijuana is a complex plant and its medical benefits cannot be fully realized with just one of its constituent elements.
Efforts like this get mired in politics all too often.
They get stifled by fear mongers, who have ulterior motives, sometimes acting on behalf of donors with a big financial stake in the result. I often hear the argument, "medical marijuana leads more kids using drugs."
That has been thoroughly refuted by multiple independent studies, which have found that teen medical marijuana usage has remained flat or decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Others argue that medical marijuana leads to an increase in crime, but they offer absolutely no evidence. These opposing arguments simply aren't true, and in my eyes, those using fear as a weapon to accomplish their political goals should be ashamed.
My critique might sound harsh, but so is leaving seriously ill Pennsylvanians without treatment, which is exactly what will happen if the Senate-passed bill continues to languish in the political doldrums.
In a recent Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania voters, 88 percent of respondents expressed support for making this option available to patients whose physicians determine could benefit.
With nearly nine out of 10 Pennsylvanians in favor, why is this bill being held up? Don't these Pennsylvanians, including chronically ill patients who might benefit, deserve an up or down vote from the Pennsylvania House?
The House faces a simple choice, politically and morally. Will it stand with an overwhelming majority of voters and its sick and suffering constituents?
Or will it allow a few of members to sidestep the democratic process and hold up a vote? I hope Pennsylvania voters will stand up and demand a vote, and I'll be traveling to Harrisburg this week to make the case.
I encourage you to urge elected officials to bring the Folmer bill to a vote in the House. It's a critical bill, with much at stake. Just ask anyone who lives every day in pain.
Montel Williams is an Emmy award winning television host. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, he is also an outspoken advocate for health and wellness and health care policy.