HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania parents seeking to treat their children’s seizures with a derivative of marijuana had reason to hope when Gov. Tom Corbett announced last month he could support a medical study.
But before such a program can begin, they have another group to persuade: the state House’s Republican majority.
A spokesman for House Republicans said Friday that a majority of members do not support authorizing Mr. Corbett’s vision of allowing children with intractable epilepsy not helped by standard therapies to have supervised access to cannabidiol, a component of marijuana that does not cause a high.
The Republican state representatives believe the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not states, should decide what is medicine, spokesman Steve Miskin said.
“That is where the majority of members of our caucus stand. They do not believe the state should approve pot — marijuana — of any sort,” Mr. Miskin said. “At this moment there are no plans to move any type of legislation to legalize the use of any derivative of marijuana.”
In addition to the 22 states and the District of Columbia with comprehensive public medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven states have laws allowing access to a form high in cannabidiol, or CBD, and low in THC, which produces a condition of euphoria.
The laws in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin limit the treatment to seizure disorders and related illnesses, while Florida also allows access for patients with cancer or other medical conditions, according to NCSL. Kentucky’s law does not specify a medical condition.
The Republican-led U.S. House last week approved a measure that would prohibit spending federal money to stop states from implementing medical marijuana laws.
Eighty-five percent of Pennsylvania voters support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes, with support of 78 percent or higher in every partisan, gender and age group, according to a survey Quinnipiac University conducted in February.
Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for Mr. Corbett, said the administration will continue conversations with the Legislature.
“The governor wants to get this done,” Ms. Cronkright said. “We are moving full steam ahead.”
In a recent interview, Secretary of Health Michael Wolf and Physician General Carrie DeLone described steps underway to establish programs for CBD treatment at a few Pennsylvania hospitals.
“One really important part of what we’re trying to accomplish is some combination of compassionate care plus study,” Mr. Wolf said. “We don’t really view this in the same way you would view a traditional clinical trial. Our goal is to make sure that if these families want to work with us and are interested in pursuing this, they get the opportunity to get access to the extracts.”
Daniel A. Notterman, vice dean for research and graduate studies at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said Mr. Wolf and members of the governor’s staff had approached the hospital about participating in the program.
Dr. Notterman said the medical center would be interested in participating only as part of a standard clinical trial. For a study to go ahead, Dr. Notterman said, it would need to permission from the state and federal governments, funding and a panel of experts to craft the study.
“That’s going to take time,” he said. “I don’t see this happening in less than a few months, just because it’s going to require action at the state and federal levels and people to get together.
At the same time, Dr. Notterman, a pediatrician who has worked both with novel drugs and with children with severe seizures, said: “I think everybody recognizes for the children and parents who have this problem even one day is too much. So we’re all prepared to work as quickly as we can to do it.”
In February, the University of California, San Francisco announced that its researchers were leading the first study of purified cannabinoid in treating severe childhood epilepsy that does not respond to standard drugs.
Dr. DeLone said establishing a study would allow families to remain in Pennsylvania instead of leaving for a state where their children could access treatment with cannabis.
That is the case for 11-year-old Anna Knecht, who has plants growing for her in Colorado and may move there with her mother to access them, said her father, Mark Knecht of Mechanicsburg, Pa., near Harrisburg.
“Anna was born with a genetic mutation that causes violent seizures, and has been on 19 drugs over her lifetime, including three that were not FDA-approved at the time,” Mr. Knecht said.
“Our doctors are prescribing stuff to our kids that’s not FDA-approved all the time, because they have nothing left. There’s nothing left in the drawer to try. That’s why we’re asking for the opportunity to try this.”
Mr. Knecht said he is not frustrated by the position of the House Republicans; he believes the families lobbying for cannabis can still change enough minds.
“It’s not like this is some crazy liberal agenda,” he said. “I’m a conservative, but when you realize what we’re talking about, it’s way less of a drug issue in relation to the stuff they’re already on.”
The House Republicans’ opposition to the program is not shared by the Senate Majority Leader, Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, who applauded Mr. Corbett’s announcement in May.
“If a child’s physician believes that cannabidiol would relieve suffering, state law should not stand in the way,” he said in a statement at the time.
And Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, has announced that the Law and Justice Committee will hold a second public hearing on medical cannabis June 10.
Karen Langley: [email protected], 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.
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