HARRISBURG - A state Senate committee on Friday unanimously approved a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes for patients with certain medical conditions.
Sens. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon), who co-sponsored the bill, said they anticipate it reaching the Senate floor for a vote before the legislature breaks for summer recess.
But, while proponents of medical marijuana celebrated, the future of the bill was uncertain.
Most GOP leaders in the House oppose the bill.
"Obviously some members support it, but the vast majority of members in our caucus believe the states should not be in business of deciding what is or is not medicine. That's what the FDA can and does do," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny).
Gov. Corbett is expected to veto any marijuana legalization bill that is broader than his proposal for a pilot study of the use of cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy.
"The governor remains opposed to legalization of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes beyond the scope of the CBD oil of his research pilot proposal," said Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R., Bucks), chairman of the law and justice committee, asked his members on Friday after the vote to "say a prayer" that it is passed into law.
"The individuals who will be helped most by this sort of treatment are some of the state's most vulnerable residents, including children who suffer from debilitating seizures who have exhausted all other treatment options," McIlhinney said.
"Despite many prejudices surrounding this issue, the use of medical cannabis offers tremendous potential as a safe and effective treatment for many Pennsylvanians suffering from chronic illness," he said.
The bill must still win approval of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"This is the most 'feel good' vote I'm going to make in my years here," said Sen. Wayne Fontana (D., Allegheny).
After the vote, Folmer was visibly choked up, and Leach stood besides four families of children with severe chronic illnesses.
"This is a people issue," Folmer said.
Hundreds of families from across Pennsylvania have rallied behind the bill, including several who attended the committee meeting. They say their children, many of whom suffer from seizures, would benefit from medical marijuana, which the amended bill would legalize in edible and vapor form, but not for smoking.
Lorelei Ulrich, 6, who, despite having undergone surgery earlier this week, skipped around her mother Friday afternoon in the Capitol.
"These are rarely-seen moments," Dana Ulrich said of her daughter. She said her epilepsy causes Lorelei to suffer 600 seizures a day and be lethargic most of the time.
Ulrich said critics of the bill have told her to find marijuana "on the street" and give it to her daughter to treat her uncontrollable seizures. As Folmer left the meeting room, he knelt down to talk with Lorelei.
"You're awesome," he said.
Then he turned to her mother and said, "We're in the fight."
Last week, New York joined 23 states, including New Jersey, in legalizing medical marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, and Parkinson's.
Folmer said the Pennsylvania bill would not only help children with epilepsy, but also cancer patients and veterans suffering from post traumatic stress.
Following hearings on the bill in January, Corbett, who had been opposed to marijuana legalization, said he would approve using the plant to treat children with seizures. But Corbett wants the children to be treated as part of a pilot study on the effects of cannabis oil on epilepsy.
Leach called Corbett's proposed trial "unacceptable," and seemed hopeful about the bill's future. He anticipated a 45-5 vote in the Senate, and Folmer said he has heard the bill in the House would pass by a similar margin.
"Pennsylvania is in a great position to be a leader in research," Folmer said.