A group of parents of epileptic children called on Commonwealth Court on Thursday to toss out a lawsuit filed by a would-be medical marijuana grower. Calling the suit "speculative, myopic, and selfish," the parents say it threatens their children's health and could subject caregivers to eventual arrest and criminal charges.
Keystone ReLeaf LLC, which counts a former mayor of Bethlehem, Pa., as a principal backer, did not win one of 12 permits to grow cannabis that were awarded in June by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The company claims to have suffered "irreparable harm" as a result. In a suit filed in mid-September, Keystone ReLeaf demands that the state shut down Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, rescind all issued permits, and start from scratch.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health filed to have the suit dismissed, saying Keystone ReLeaf filed an incomplete application, missed the deadline "through the fault of its counsel," and received a low score. In addition, the department argued that because the company had not applied for a growing permit in all six zones, it did not have standing to stop the program in all six.
An attorney for Keystone ReLeaf did not return calls requesting comment.
About 314 parents hold "safe harbor" letters issued by the department that allow them to buy medical marijuana oils out-of-state to administer to their sick children. There is significant anecdotal evidence that the medicines cut back on the number of seizures suffered by epileptic children. The letters will expire May 17, 2018, by which time the state's medical marijuana program is expected to be up and running. There is no provision for an extension.
If the medical marijuana program is delayed, parents "will face criminal liability," according to the brief filed by the parents' group, Campaign for Compassion. "Moreover, young patients who have seen medical gains while treating with marijuana will risk deteriorating to their prior condition."
Under the law, anyone with a prior drug conviction is prohibited from being a caregiver for a medical marijuana patient. In a worst-case scenario, the disqualification of a caregiver could keep child patients from getting access to the medicines.
"We're asking the court to weigh which side will suffer greater harm," said William Roark, one of the lawyers who filed a brief on behalf of the parents' group. Roark is cochair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's medical marijuana and hemp law committee. "The courts should have a full picture of what harms the patients are facing."