A few Pennsylvania legislators are signing on to an important medical advance: legalizing medicinal marijuana.
State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, has only six co-sponsors so far for his bill. But at least he is recognizing marijuana’s palliative possibilities and pointing out that Pennsylvanians in pain should not have to leave the state for treatment — or buy the drug from criminals.
Cohen’s H.B. 1393 would allow the use of medical marijuana under certain restrictions. The bill proposes dispensing it from “compassion centers” run by a non-profit organization or, possibly, by a state agency. Already 13 states have legalized medical marijuana; bills are also under consideration New York, New Hampshire, Michigan and Illinois.
People have begun to understand that marijuana can ease the symptoms and suffering of patients who are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. For patients for whom traditional medicine has not helped, medical marijuana may offer hope for relief from pain, nausea, loss of appetite and wasting. A 1999 Institute of Medicine study confirmed the effectiveness of medical marijuana in relieving such symptoms.
Legislative endorsement of medical marijuana lags behind professional opinion. Public officials don’t want to seem “soft on drugs.” But the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Bar Association have all advocated allowing patients access to medical marijuana. Dozens of state and national polls have indicated overwhelming public support for medical marijuana. Acceptance of legalization for medical purposes has risen over time as the public has learned more about the issue.
Opponents to legalization argue that marijuana can serve as a gateway drug to other illegal substances. But consider that someone buying marijuana must go through illegal channels, and most likely is buying the drug from someone who also is selling other illegal drugs. Sales tactics being what they are, purchasers are likely to hear a pitch for something else. Controlling medical marijuana like other pharmaceuticals, prescribing it for specific conditions or diagnoses and making it legally available, would remove that illicit exposure.
Doctors ought to be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana, and patients should be allowed to use it. For some of these afflicted individuals, medical marijuana may be the best way to address their suffering and improve their lives.
H.B. 1393’s co-sponsors thus far are Philadelphia-area legislators. Monroe County’s state representatives John Siptroth, D-189; Mario Scavello, R-176; Mike Carroll, D-118 and Michael Peifer, R-139 should consult their constituents here in the Poconos. They might find surprising support for legalizing medical marijuana — and sign on to Cohen’s bill.