It's time for medical marijuana legislation

It's time for medical marijuana legislation

Published on 12/2/13

As time goes on, citizens and governmental officials throughout our country increasingly recognize the necessity of expanding options for health care. In my many years in the Legislature, for instance, I have been active in establishing and maintaining the regulation and growth of the chiropractic profession, facilitating organ and tissue transplants, and establishing and expanding subsidized prescriptions for senior citizens.

The cultural wars of the 1960s have long been over. The legalization of marijuana, when prescribed by a physician for a bona fide medical purpose, would not only improve health care, but it would increase state revenue by at least $25 million a year. Legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes would also reduce criminal prosecutions, as well as weaken the existing criminal networks selling marijuana. It is an idea that is now law in 20 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) plus Washington, D.C., and Portland, Maine.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder informed the governors of Washington and Colorado at the end of August that the Department of Justice would allow the states to create a structure that would regulate and implement the ballot initiatives that legalized the use of marijuana for adults. Holder further stated that the department would take a "trust but verify approach" to the state laws. That is the strongest invitation yet for states to get involved with the legalization of medical marijuana.

I have been greatly impressed by the depth and breadth of support for medical marijuana. In a statewide poll conducted in May by Franklin & Marshall College, 82 percent of respondents said they favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes — up from 76 percent in 2009. Support for the recreational use of marijuana also has increased as reflected in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center released in April. A majority of Americans now say marijuana should be made legal and far fewer view it as a gateway to harder drugs. Support for legalization jumped seven points in two years and 20 points since the 2002 General Social Survey.

The political landscape for legalization of marijuana has changed and is continuing to evolve. Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) stated in March that people shouldn't go to jail for nonviolent drug crimes such as marijuana possession. Wide majorities of Democrats and Republicans agree that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth.

Republican interest for the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania is growing. In fact, my legislation — House Bill 1181 — recently received the support of Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks. I have also had calls from other Republican members who have expressed interest in the initiative. Many of them have been contacted by families of children with seizure disorders desperately looking for legally available marijuana to treat their children. Some people are migrating to Colorado for the "medical marijuana miracle," where it has been reported that children using cannabis-infused oil have had a 90 percent to 100 percent reduction in their seizures.

With Pennsylvania in need of popular money-generating ideas, this is the time for medical marijuana legalization. We need to move forward with progressive public policy that would improve human capital, as well as the health and fiscal policy within the commonwealth, reduce criminal prosecutions and weaken the existing criminal networks selling marijuana. My legislation, House Bill 1181, would attempt to do that by limiting the legal sale of marijuana to people who have the recommendation of a medical doctor through a distribution network composed of a limited number of compassion centers throughout Pennsylvania.

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