Pubdate: Sat, 8 May 2010
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2010 The Citizens' Voice
Author: Matthew Harris


WILKES-BARRE - Kenny Brown understands the issue of legalizing 
medical marijuana might be a non-starter in Pennsylvania, but he 
spent Friday trying to change a few minds.

Along with 70 supporters, the 21-year-old spent the afternoon 
rallying on Public Square to share stories, information and a 
petition for sanctioning the drug for medicinal use. While supporters 
understood residents' hesitation to the idea, they said the 
movement's goal isn't solely to legalize the substance outright and 
is grounded in giving patients another treatment option.

"This is a compassionate movement," Brown said. "I don't need 
marijuana for medical use, but I don't think it should be illegal 
because of that. Just because I don't benefit doesn't mean my friend 
who may have HIV or cancer may not be helped."

The fledgling chapter of the Cannabis Defense Movement, of which 
Brown is a member, tried to take advantage of Public Square's 
prominent location in downtown Wilkes-Barre to aim its message at 
Wilkes University and King's College students along with residents 
during breaks in the work day, Brown said. By Friday afternoon, the 
group had collected 250 signatures supporting medical marijuana.

Brown touted the benefits of marijuana not as competing treatment 
with traditional medication but as a means to ease nausea and 
vomiting associated with chemotherapy, stimulate hunger in AIDS 
patients and as a general pain reliever for conditions such as 
chronic arthritis. He said potentially discovering other benefits 
through medical research are blunted by the drug's illegal status.

In recent years, 14 states have approved medical marijuana in some 
form, most prominently California and recently Colorado, according to 
the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws. Yet, there 
have been controversies associated with those moves.

In California, whose voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, local 
governments are grappling with how to regulate and monitor 
dispensaries and discern whether users have valid identification to 
make purchases. On top of that, there have been issues in Humboldt 
County and other counties with covert and illegal growing operations 
setting up shop in state parks and other rural areas, sometimes 
draining local creeks of water to grow plants.

Adam Szomski, 21, said legalizing medical marijuana and directing 
money and resources used for drug enforcement would help crack down 
those who abuse the system.  Meanwhile, he said if the medical 
marijuana were treated as a normal crop, it would be an incentive for 
farmers to preserve their land.

"I think with the way politics have been changing, it's time for a 
more rationale debate rather than outright stigmatizing the subject," 
Szomski said.

Brown sees Pennsylvania as a place where the tenor of the debate is 
changing, with large chapters of NORML flourishing in urban areas 
such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh balanced with conservative 
attitudes in western parts of the state.

"Even medical marijuana is something can breach party lines," he 
said. "A patient isn't just a liberal or a conservative. A patient is 
a patient." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake