House bill pushes Pennsylvania to go green, legalize marijuana
Stephany Bowen suffers from fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy and chronic pain from four back surgeries, a metal plate in the back of her neck and hypertension in her right leg.
Her daily ritual includes insulin, Vicodin and up to two bowls of marijuana, which she claims eases nausea caused by her medication and takes her mind off her pain.
She said she is unable to work and rarely leaves home. Her marijuana use is a crime under state law, but she is hopeful that one day that will change.
"I believe it does have medicinal qualities to it," said Bowen, 46, of Penn Hills. "Since marijuana is grown naturally, it should be legal."
Momentum supporting that position is growing. Since 1996, 13 states have legalized medical marijuana.
State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, introduced House Bill 1393 in April that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes. A public hearing is scheduled tomorrow in Harrisburg before the House Health and Human Services committee.
The bill aims to ease the lives of suffering patients, take money away from the drug trade and create about $25 million a year in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana, Cohen said.
"The bill has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming law, but I think that health care groups will lean toward it," he said.
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, chairman of the subcommittee on drugs and alcohol, said the decision to legalize marijuana should rest with the medical community.
"Doctors should determine whether there's a place for the drug in the treatment of their patients," he said.
The American Medical Association last month changed its position on medical marijuana, urging the federal government to reconsider pot's classification as a Schedule 1 drug. The goal is to clear the way to conduct clinical research and develop marijuana-based medicines, according to the association.
The AMA's statement was a topic of conversation recently at the first meeting of Pittsburgh NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws.
A group of about 20 members, who ranged widely in age and profession, discussed methods of spreading information about medical marijuana.
"We will be organized and professional," said Patrick Nightingale, a Downtown defense attorney and founder of Pittsburgh NORML. "We're not a bunch of freaks getting together to get stoned."
Nightingale, a former Allegheny County assistant district attorney, said he supports complete legalization.
"It concerns me as an attorney that I've had to prosecute and defend folks for conduct no different than buying a six-pack or bottle of wine," he said.
Tomorrow's public hearing is a small step forward for supporters of the bill, but with just six co-sponsors there's a chance it will never reach a vote, said Rep. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler.
"Marijuana is still considered a gateway drug, and a lot of the people who are fighting for this bill want to use the legislation as a step-off point for legalizing all marijuana," said Vulakovich, a former police officer.
Gov. Ed Rendell maintains his position on medical marijuana, said spokesman Gary Tuma.
"If a reasonable, well-crafted bill reached his desk," Tuma said, "he would sign it."Additional Information:
About state House Bill 1393
Although federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In Arizona, doctors are permitted to prescribe marijuana. (The Obama administration recently directed federal prosecutors to back away from pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients.)
State House Bill 1393 would legalize marijuana for use by patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS or any other health issues that a licensed doctor deems treatable by marijuana in a manner that is superior to treatment without marijuana.
Patients who qualify would be required to have a registry identification card and possess no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of pot.
To read the bill, go online, select 'Bill #' at the top under 'Find Legislation By,' type in 'H 1393' and click 'Go'
Source: State House Bill 1393Additional Information:
All those in favor
A Gallup poll in October found that 44 percent of Americans were in favor of making marijuana legal • not just for medicinal purposes • and 54 percent opposed it. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25 percent range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31 percent in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade, according to Gallup.
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