Gov. Corbett's refusal to support medical marijuana defies public opinion and sound rationale
When voters are 85 percent in favor of something, politicians typically sit up, take notice and give the people what they want. But not Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll, that large majority of Pennsylvanians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. A similar poll conducted at the same time last year by Franklin & Marshall College found 82 percent in favor. But the governor has said that he would veto any legislation legalizing even the medicinal use of the plant.
And now there is pending legislation, authored by conservative Republican state Sen. Mike Folmer. Once a critic of marijuana legalization, Folmer had a considerable change of heart after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2012. For the first time, a medical marijuana bill in Pennsylvania has growing bipartisan support. That bill, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, would enable adults to possess and use small amounts of marijuana, prescribed by a doctor, to treat a range of illnesses and disorders, including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma, among others. Children, too, could be treated with the drug with a guardian's consent, most typically (but not exclusively) to alleviate the ill effects of severe seizure disorders, an application which has been life-changing for many in states that have already legalized medical marijuana usage.
So why is Corbett content to stand astride the overwhelming will of the people? His public stance is that changes in drug laws should be undertaken at the federal level. He would have us believe that he is unaware that medical marijuana is legal in 21 states and Washington, D.C. Instead, he deflects attention toward the president, saying this month: “We all know he's admitted to smoking pot in the past. He's had the opportunity to go and tell the FDA (to legalize the drug). Has he done that?”
No, but the president's Justice Department has allowed 21 states and the District of Columbia to legalize it without incident. The federal government has spoken loud and clear.
The usual approach at this point would be to ask which entrenched interest groups benefit from the status quo, but oddly, none really do, at least not all that much.
According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, there were more than 19,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania in 2012. Of these, 17,000 were cleared — the arrests were expunged, likely because the offenders were eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, although some of the clearances were undoubtedly the result of successful court challenges.
Each of the cases that go through ARD can generate between $500 and $1,000 in legal fees, plus another $1,000 or more in fines and fees for substance abuse classes, in addition to required psychological counseling — services that are often provided to counties by private contractors. That makes marijuana's share of Pennsylvania's ARD program worth close to $35 million annually.
That sounds like a lot of money but in a state with a $70 billion budget, it is more like a rounding error.
What we have here is nothing more than inertia. We are doing this because this is what we have always done. And that is a terrible reason to do anything. None of the states that has legalized medical marijuana has collapsed. Neither will Pennsylvania.
What will happen? People's suffering will be alleviated. And that is all Tom Corbett should be thinking about.
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan is a fellow of the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates, Worley edge Brewers, 1-0, move to cusp of playoffs
- Pirates notebook: Bucs set single-season attendance record
- How to take good care of kitchen appliances
- Woodlands Foundation toasts FedEx Ground volunteers at Butterfly Ball
- Ex-etiquette: As kids age, consider change in visitation schedule
- Sole Highlands HS twirler follows in grandmother’s footsteps
- Duquesne Light hires new operations vice president
- Police say rifle carried by suspect in state trooper ambush found
- Concept Art sale is big on local big-name artists
- West Virginia notebook: Oklahoma run game proves too much
- Pitt notebook: Receiving depth up in the air