PENNSYLVANIA: The memo issued last week by the US Department of Justice, which signaled the feds will not interfere in states allowing commercial marijuana sales, will not put an end to more than 20,000 annual arrests for pot possession in Pennsylvania.
But it does give lawmakers in Harrisburg an important opportunity to have a national impact. The Keystone State is unlikely to legalize cannabis anytime soon, but change is in the wind.
Here is the increasingly green picture:
- Public support for marijuana reform is polling at an all-time high (pun slightly intended)
- There are active bills to change cannabis laws in PA for both medical marijuana and full legalization
- Two candidates, St. Sen. Daylin Leach who is running for US Congress and John Hanger who is in the race for Pa. Governor, have made cannabis a core issue of their campaign platforms
- A strong and active grassroots network exists across the state supporting the issue with rallies and events like The Hemp Heals Music Festival By the numbers.
There has never been a more popular question asked by Franklin & Marshall pollsters of Pennsylvania voters than the one posed about medical marijuana.
An astounding 82% of Pennsylvania voters have favored access repeatedly in three separate polls. It is almost difficult to convey the immense significance of this level of support; no other topic (or individual politician) comes close. Most Democrats and Republicans — from every corner of the state — clearly want Harrisburg to legalize medical marijuana. However, when it comes to full regulated and taxed recreational marijuana voters are about evenly split.
The latest F&M poll shows about 54% oppose it, but that is still a big shift. Pennsylvania voters previously polled with much stronger opposition, so it seems there are quickly changing sentiments on the issue.
A Tale of Two Bills For four years, a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia has been active in the General Assembly to create a system for medical marijuana access. Hearings were held in 2009 before the Pa.House Health and Human Services Committee. Potential patients, doctors, nurses along with community and religious leaders expressed their support.
Dr. Harry Swidler, an emergency medicine physician, addressed the legislature during those 2009 hearings. “Marijuana is non-addicting. There is no physical dependence or physical withdrawal associated with its use. It is, from a practical standpoint, non-toxic. Marijuana is safer by some measures than any other drug.
There is simply no known quantity of marijuana capable of killing a person.” The bill was re-named The Governor Raymond P. Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in 2011, to honor the Republican who guided a commission for President Nixon on the topic of marijuana. In 1972, Shafer personally delivered a report to the White House saying that cannabis should not be classified with other narcotics or included in the Controlled Substances Act.
The commissioners recommended that personal marijuana possession should be federally decriminalized. There were clear considerations about the medical use of cannabis in the 1972 report. Advocates are hoping for new hearings on the Pennsylvania medical access bill this fall.