Monday, April 25, 2016

Expressions of Gratitude: Representative Mark Cohen

Representative Mark B. Cohen, District 202 in Northeast Philadelphia is the most senior member in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, having served since 1974. Representative Cohen's extensive career has allowed him to work on many committees, reform measures and important pieces of legislation.

His committee assignments and legislative pursuits often reflected his desire to assist and advocate for the most vulnerable of our citizens as well as our working class families. As Chairman of the House Labor Relations Committee from 1983 to 1990, Representative Cohen focused on increasing the minimum wage and protecting worker's compensation benefits. He fought for improvement in access to timely compensation benefits for injured workers and to improve labor conditions for farm workers.

Representative Cohen's work on public health issues and as Democratic Chairman of the Human Services Committee allowed him to affect government programs, services and legislation which helped at risk populations as well as the general public. He fought for PA's Organ Donation Trust Fund law, which gave organizations specializing in organ transplantation hospital access to potential organ donors, set up a system of drivers' license identification for each potential organ donor, and publicized the need for organ donation.

Under pressure from the insurance industry, Governor Tom Corbett refused to implement newly established Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs as required by a law. Cohen, along with Representative DiGirolamo opposed the Governor's inaction by holding a public hearing in Harrisburg. And Cohen was ahead of his time when he co-sponsored a bill to establish the Pharmaceutical Accountability Monitoring System in order to detect pharmaceutical drug abuse and substance use disorders, by people with addiction to them, back in 2011.

It was this foundation, established by Representative Cohen, which paved the way for what eventually became Act 16 of 2016, the Medical Marijuana Saw of PA. We are forever grateful to Representative Cohen for his foresite and courage to take a stand against an unjust law, and also for his continued support and dedication throughout this fight. His early leadership on this issue brought together and inspired dedicated advocates and patients who were instrumental in helping throughout the process to make medical marijuana a reality in PA.

Representative Cohen was also ahead of his time when it came to his support of medical marijuana for use by sick and suffering patients in PA. Cohen first introduced medical marijuana legislation in April of 2009 when he introduced HB 1393, an Act providing for the medical use of marijuana; and repealing provisions of law that prohibit and penalize marijuana use. It was apparent to Cohen that marijuana has medical benefit and there was no reason to deny patients access to it in a regulated system. He has sponsored similar legislation and has supported this cause ever since.

~Luke Shultz and the Team at Campaign4Compassion

Friday, April 22, 2016

Expressions of Gratitude: Representative Brian Sims

When Senate Bill 3 (now known as act 16) finally passed the Pennsylvania legislature earlier this month, our community celebrated with cheers, a few tears and a renewed hope for the future of Pennsylvania. While we know that there is still much work to be done on this issue, we were finally able to take a step back and reflect on how far we have come as a state and as a community. We have celebrated some huge wins and felt heart crushing defeat. We have endured hours of painful testimony against our bill and have been lifted up by our supporters' eloquent and passionate pleas time and time again. When you are sitting in a crowded gallery, many times with a seizing, tired child on your lap, you live for those moments.  As soon as an unsupportive legislator FINALLY takes a seat, after sucking the hope out of the room, you see one of your heroes walk up to the podium with confidence and grace, bringing with him a breath of fresh air. Representative Brian Sims is one of those heroes. Intelligent, articulate and kind, it was with compassion (and sometimes a little humor) he made our fight just a little bit easier.

"[There is] no metric to measure the smile on a child's face 
when they can go a day without a seizure." 
- Representative Sims speaking in support of SB3
So today, Campaign 4 Compassion wants to thank Representative Brian Sims for being a true leader on this issue. This is for you sir...

Rep Kevin Schreiber, Governor Tom Wolf, Rep Brian Sims, 3 of Campaign 4 Compassions heroes all in one shot!
There are moments in every battle when you just want to give up, walk away and never look back. It is in these moments that people like you are the most important. You are the kind of representative that inspires people to take charge of the situation and make the world a better place. You always had a minute to listen to our struggle and in our darkest times, words of encouragement to keep us on track. We can’t thank you enough for your support and passion. We just can’t wait to see what your future holds sir, you deserve the best!

~Campaign 4 Compassion team

Sunday, April 17, 2016

On Fire

Sometimes our toughest hardship leads to our greatest purpose.” -Lysa Terkeurst 

It seems a lot of people go through life not knowing their real purpose. The struggles they face get the better of them and they tend to get lost or give up. But then you have those people who show us how to take what you have been dealt and turn it into something else…something great!

That is just what Lolly did. When Lolly’s daughter, Anna, faced life-threatening seizures, when the light in her once perfectly developing child started to dim, when Anna could no longer recall the names of her family members, though she was getting standard medical interventions, Lolly couldn’t help but think there had to be something more…something that could turn Anna’s life around. And so some research began. And what started out as a few conversations here and there and a little bit of online research turned into a monumental task, one that seemed would never end. Lolly, along with a crew of amazing team members, took on the fight of changing the law…to bring medical cannabis to the state of Pennsylvania.

For a while it almost seemed like Lolly’s address was 501 N 3rd St, Harrisburg, PA 17120, a.k.a. the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Almost daily for the last 2 plus years, when our Legislators were in session, Lolly was there…fighting, advocating, strategizing…She wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone! She let no title intimidate her. She became a force to be reckoned with. Almost every Pennsylvania legislator knows her name!

Her work never stopped. Day and night she put plan and effort, sweat and tears, into the cause. Everyday her team could count on her to be there for them…organizing, communicating, inspiring…all in the name of not just her own child, but every sick Pennsylvanian needing access to medical cannabis.

What she was walking through with Anna and the pain she saw many individuals going through, lead her to one of her greatest purposes! With passionate pursuit, unceasing prayers, through tears and sleepless nights, Lolly lead a team, fighting to help them not give up, to keep going, to press on.

I thank God for giving her the strength, knowledge and power to move mountains, to defeat giants, to run and not grow weary…

~Jana (her little sis)

And so, today we wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate her...this girl on fire! Not only to show our appreciation, but to wish her the happiest of birthdays.

We reached out to our community for a few words about Lolly and what came back was a FLOOD of beautiful sentiments.  So many in fact, we may have missed a few people.  Please continue the love in the comment section:

Lolly, you are the true Champion of this fight. Even though your own child was healing at home. You didn't remain quiet and hide. You chose to fight louder and longer. To assure every family had the opportunity to find their own Miracle. I'm so proud to call you my friend. Thank you Love Diana, Mike, Ryan, Alexis & Hailey

To watch how you have grown in strength, integrity and wisdom is something to be marveled at! I thank God each day that He has blessed me with not only a great sister, but also a best friend! - Jana

Lolly is one of the most genuine, hard-working and honest people I have ever met. Lolly's compassion is contagious to those lucky enough to know her. She has a heart of gold and is always willing to go the extra mile to help, not only a friend, but anyone in need. -Ang Sharrer

"Lolly is one of the most dedicated and caring people I know. Because of her dedication and aptitude, and the ability to build a rapport and genuine relationship with the senators and representatives, we managed to get a better-than-average medical marijuana bill passed in a state where the legislature is controlled by ultra-conservatives who equated marijuana will evil. It's fitting that the bill gets signed into law on her birthday of all days!" -Derek

"Lolly, I just don't do I'm not going to try. You know I love ya and it's been amazing walking this journey with you. Happy birthday, Buddy" -Dana

My son suggested I read “How To Win Friends and Influence People” as a means to improve my advocacy efforts. Again and again while reading the recommendations, I thought to myself; “Lolly naturally does that, and that, and that, and that”. You are an amazing people-person whose capacity for compassion is limitless. I consider you family whether you like it or not. Happy Birthday! - Luke

Special is a word that is used to describe someone that is distinct , exceptional and one of a kind ... even with all of that , it still falls short of describing all that you are Lolly. Thank you for your leadership, your motivation and for keeping us all together when we wanted to fall apart. But most of all, thank you for your friendship. You are special to me and always will be. Love you lots. -Deena

Have you ever met someone you KNEW would change the world and in that moment inspired you to do the same? That is “Lolly” to me, but what I don’t think you realize is just HOW MANY people you have inspired. So today, on your birthday, we wanted to show you. I hope that your heart has been filled this morning my dear friend. - Cara

Intelligent, tenacious, articulate, funny, beautiful and STRONG came up in quotes time and time again,  WE CONCUR LOLLY BENCH MYERS – from your best “buddies” at C4C

"You continued to amaze me more and more every week, as things got harder and more frustrating to deal with. You might have others fooled, but I think you are a paid lobbyist - because you sure didn't act like someone new to the game. Happy Birthday to a wonderful Mom, a tireless advocate, and a friend." - Jim Davis

My hearts bursts with love for that girl. I’ve not known an advocate like her. She’s a fearless & loving force for good who looks for the best in every person she meets, no matter how crazy they may seem (and we all know there's a lot of crazy where we've been.) True to herself yet her own worst critic, she is generous & kind beyond reason and hopelessly optimistic despite her endless doubts. She’s been the soul of this movement & the stuff that kept it together. SB 3 might have passed one of these days, but I can tell you it would have taken a lot longer & it most certainly would have been way less fun. Oh how I wish I could clone her for every issue we work on... PA would be a freaking utopia. How lucky I am to call Lolly my friend. – MP

Lolly....Every time I see you, your actions and passion inspire me to dream more, inspire me to be a better father and pastor. You have called on so many to learn more, do more and become more. This my friend, is genuine leadership, defined." - Pastor Shawn Berkebile

Lolly is the definition of unrelenting strength, courage, and sacrifice.  - JoJo

Lolly...You mean so much to so many people.  Without your tireless efforts, we know we wouldn't be where we are at today.  We are working on changing the world with our babies on our hips.  On behalf of Sydney and so many others, THANK YOU and have the happiest of birthdays!  - Julie Michaels

Lolly is the kind of friend you miss the moment you leave her. Her strength, passion and loyalty inspire others to do great things. She is truly remarkable.  - Becky Dansky

What an amazingly strong woman. We love you!" - Louann Speese

We at PAMCS and Pittsburgh NORML wish Lolly a very Happy Birthday!  We would like to thank her from the bottom of our heart for her tireless efforts to improve PA cannabis law.  - Patrick and Theresa Nightingale

Lolly is a special woman. Without her, Senate Bill 3 would have never passed. Her determination and tenacity are only matched by her compassion and integrity. We are all very fortunate to have Lolly champion this cause and I consider myself even luckier to call her my friend. – Tim Keller

When I think of Lolly, I am reminded of this childhood educational series, School House Rock, especially the Adverb video, Lolly's. I have observed Lolly using her whole being as a verb; patient, giving, empathetic, kind and kicks it up a notch when others would just back away, hence the adverb, in the very end of the video, it describes Lolly perfectly, "at your service, indubitably! She embodies all that one would want to have in a Mom, sister, family member! – Susan Love

I will never forget the first time I met Lolly. It was on September 30, 2013 at the Midtown Scholar book store for the Harrisburg Hope Cannabis Reform Forum. She was with Dana Ulrich and I could see the passion in their eyes and fire in their hearts. I knew right away that I was meeting some very special people. They looked so ordinary, just a couple everyday moms but greatness was within them because they were carrying a blinding torch of truth that you would have to be blind not to see. How fitting that medical cannabis legislation will be signed into law by Governor Wolf on Lolly's birthday! Over the last 2 1/2 years it has been a pure pleasure and honor to watch Lolly take on the leadership mantle and evolve from ordinary mom to political powerhouse. Dozens of moms and many great people assumed leadership roles and did absolutely amazing work. Everyone though, looked to Lolly for guidance and as an example of strength, courage, wisdom, intelligence, passion and determination. She is an inspiration to all of us. So Happy Birthday Lolly and Happy Birthday Pennsylvania! It's a new day. – Les Stark

Lolly's leadership skills are nothing short of amazing. She went from mom to full time lobbyist in a matter of months. She became the go to person for legislators, lobbyists, reporters and patients. Even when legislators were being totally unreasonable, she didn't back down and would educate them about the true benefits of medical marijuana. I'm proud to be on the same team with Lolly and all the moms in Campaign for Compassion. Thanks and Happy Birthday Lolly! –Erin McCann

Lolly, You're truly an amazing woman! You're a leader and you've proven there is no greater gift than compassion. The light that shines within you has positively influenced so many people. I hope you have an absolutely wonderful birthday, and may God always protect and guide you. Happy Birthday!!! – Nichole McClure

Lolly's evolution from fighter mom to advocate for all has been truly inspirational. I cannot wait to see what my friend will do next. – Angela Ferro

We love you Lolly! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

We concur...

As a group, Campaign4Compassion has remained largely silent as to where we stand on concurrence by the senate on SB3.  We felt it necessary to afford the champions of our cause some time to gather their thoughts and make their own decision on the best way to move forward.  

On one hand, concurrence is the path of least resistance… for now. If the Senate concurs on SB3, as amended by the House of Representatives, the bill goes on to Governor Tom Wolf to be swiftly signed into law. Shortly thereafter, countless parents will breathe a much deserved sigh of relief as they enjoy some amount of protection that the bill would offer those who have made the difficult choice to administer an illegal substance to their medically fragile children.

Roughly 6 months later, if all goes as planned, temporary regulations would be set into place, lending emergency provisions to all patients who qualify for medical cannabis until they can finally access medicine from a dispensary in our state.

During this time, no doubt, the Department of Health will be diligently working on the regulatory process for our program. Countless hours will be spent laying framework for a program that will arguably be the most complex operation the Commonwealth has seen, to date.

So what are we waiting for, you might ask?

First of all, SB3, as it passed out of the Senate, was a very different bill than SB3, as it passed out of the House. In the House of Representatives, several amendments were added to SB3, one of which was known as a “gut and replace”.

To be very clear, we know it would have been irresponsible for the Senate to concur immediately on a bill that had been so drastically altered, especially considering their legislative experts were not at the drafting table during this crucial phase.

One thing we believe we can all agree on is that this bill is flawed. It was flawed coming out of the Senate, and it remains flawed now. However, no amount of ping ponging between the two chambers will make it suddenly appear to be a work of legislative art, free of the need for improvements for years to come. That’s not to say that the respective parties have not enthusiastically tried to give us a workable bill.  It’s just that everyone’s idea of what a workable bill is, is different.

No matter the outcome of the Senate’s vote, whether it be a vote on concurrence, or a vote to amend SB3 and make technical changes to “clean it up”, real work lies ahead. We may face, yet again, a period of agonizing work, as we lobby the House of Representatives to vote on concurrence. We face much uncertainty there, and no amount of reassurances will possibly alleviate the concern that we could be fighting another uphill battle to get SB3 passed, without issue, in an election year, during budget negotiations, with the two year session nearing the end. That’s just fact.

In the event that the Senate concurs, SB3 will go into law shortly thereafter. We would be lying if we said we thought we will see this medical cannabis program operate like a well-oiled machine. This program has so much overregulation in it you’d think we were seeking the medical use of heavily addictive, highly toxic opioids (insert eye roll here.)

While we know our answer to the question does not dictate which path the Senate will take, for the record, Campaign4Compassion has asked the Senate to concur. This request was not without debate, not without uncertainty, not without tears. Our position was a result of careful and calculated deliberation among members of our community. We weighed benefit versus risk and came to the conclusion that we were in a state of paralysis by analysis. And that, friends, is how indescribably important issues don’t get resolved. 

Somehow we must move forward. Somehow, we must acknowledge that even an imperfect program, given attention and nurturing, can and will benefit patients.

For a time, we were so proud to see that our struggle to bring medical cannabis to suffering Pennsylvanians brought true bipartisanship into both the Senate and House chambers. It was amazing to witness our legislators not as Republican and Democrat but just as people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Pennsylvanians. 

What we seem to be left with is a lot of well- intentioned people and no clear path moving forward. We can’t help but wonder if our respective chambers lack the will to be cohesive on this issue. 

Have our loved ones become political pawns stuck in bicameral gridlock?  

We truly do not know the answer to this question.  But what we do know is this…Campaign4Compassion will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that the people of this state do not become collateral damage in a problem that has little to do with our bill and a lot to do with politics.