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April 13, 2015

Medical Marijuana Debate Continues in Pennsylvania

Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania

Two bills are currently in front of the Pennsylvania Legislature that would allow Pennsylvania to join numerous other states in legalizing medical marijuana. If passed, House Bill 193 [1] and Senate Bill 3 [2] would provide for the use of cannabis for certain medical purposes when prescribed by a qualified physician. Such medical purposes include the treatment of symptoms and pain related to multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS [3]),post-concussion syndrome, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, and more.

Recent Congressional Hearing on Medical Marijuana

On March 24, legislators and physicians gathered in Philadelphia to debate and give their opinions on the issue. Many legislators recounted stories of their constituents who are desperate for an alternative to potentially dangerous drugs and narcotic painkillers for themselves and their children. For example, one mother [4] in York Township believes that medical marijuana is the only treatment that can help control her daughter’s seizures without causing severe and debilitating side effects. Legislators also noted that public support for the legalization of medical marijuana is significantly higher that the opposition (which is the opposite for recreational use support in Pennsylvania). They further argued that creating a new industry for medical marijuana would increase jobs and tax revenue for the state.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Law

Several physicians voiced their opinions opposing passing the law in Pennsylvania without additional research. Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I dangerous drug  in the United States, a substantial amount of official research has not been conducted regarding the benefits and risks of medical marijuana. For this reason, many physicians want to hold off on passing the law completely legalizing medical prescription of the drugs and instead remove the “dangerous drug” label so that more research can be conducted. A dangerous drug [5] can be classified as a drug that can often lead to serious side effects, heart conditions, physical debilitation, strokes, blood clots, etc. Legislators retorted that while Pennsylvania medical groups take years to research medical marijuana, children and adults alike with serious illnesses will suffer.

Medical marijuana researcher Jahan Marcu [6] sides with the legislators [7] arguing that more medical research is always important for every issue. He stated, “If we didn’t need more research, all the diseases would be cured.” Marcu also points to worldwide research on the matter, arguing that less stringent drug laws in places in Mexico, Europe, and Canada have allowed extensive, long-lasting clinical studies testing the long-term effects of medical marijuana. Over 100 important papers have been published in recent years across the country. Therefore, Marcu argues, using marijuana medicinally is far from a “new idea.”

Medical marijuana outside of Pennsylvania in the U.S.

Despite the relative lack of American research, California was the first state to pass a medical marijuana as early as 1996. Since then, 24 total [8] in the U.S. have legalized the use of marijuana for prescribed medical purposes. These jurisdictions are as follows:

In addition to the above states with comprehensive medical marijuana programs, 11 other states have less permissive laws. These 11 states will allow products with low THC and high cannabidiol (CBD) to be used in very specific situations, which vary by state. These laws are as follows:

• Alabama – Use for research regarding the effectiveness of marijuana for juvenile epileptic conditions.

• Florida – With approval from 2 physicians, can be used for cancer, seizure disorders, or approved conditions as long as the treatment information will be used for research.

• Iowa – For intractable epilepsy.

• Kentucky – For research by a school of medicine or university.

• Mississippi – For debilitating epilepsy or related conditions.

• Missouri – For intractable epilepsy.

• North Carolina – For intractable epilepsy.

• South Carolina – Several specific forms of epilepsy.

• Tennessee – For research program studying effects on intractable seizure conditions.

• Utah – For certain approved cases of intractable epilepsy.

• Wisconsin – For seizure disorders.

As you can see, there are many options for laws regarding the range and specifications for the use of medical marijuana. It is still yet to be seen whether Pennsylvania legislators will pass the current bills or whether they will amend the bill down to a more restrictive use of medical cannabis. One thing is for certain, if the law passes, there may be many legal questions that must be addressed by users, law enforcement, and lawmakers alike.

[1]http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2015&sind=0&body=H&type=B&bn=0193

[2]http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2015&sInd=0&body=S&type=B&bn=0003

[3]http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/amyotrophiclateralsclerosis/detail_ALS.htm

[4]http://www.yorkdispatch.com/breaking/ci_27774361/york-twp-mom-wants-treat-epileptic-daughter-medical?source=pkg

[5]http://drugreporter.com/dangerous-drugs/

[6]http://medical-cannabis-declaration.org/jahan-marcu/

[7]http://www.yorkdispatch.com/breaking/ci_27774364/pennsylvania-physicians-respond-growing-research-medical-marijuana

[8]http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881

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