Pubdate: Wed, 04 Aug 2010
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2010 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Paul Peirce


The first order of business at a NORML meeting is a warning that no
marijuana will be sold and there will be no illegal activity.

The announcement at the start of the first-ever Westmoreland County
chapter meeting of the Pittsburgh NORML at Scooby's in Greensburg
didn't prompt an exit of any of the 35 people who attended.

In fact, these are high times for the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, which is promoting reform of marijuana laws
in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia with six co-sponsors has
proposed legislation that would make Pennsylvania the 15th state to
legalize physician-supervised use of marijuana.

As proposed, House Bill 1393 -- known as the Barry Busch Compassionate
Use Medical Marijuana Act of 2009 -- would allow state-authorized
patients to possess and cultivate cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
The measure would allow for the state licensed distribution and sale
of medical marijuana by authorized "compassion centers."

The bill has not come up for a vote, but it has had one hearing in
Harrisburg before the House Health and Human Services Committee. The
proposal remains before the committee.

"At least now there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said Patrick
Nightingale, a criminal defense attorney from Pittsburgh and the
executive director of the Pittsburgh NORML organization.

Nightingale was in Greensburg last week to pitch $35 NORML memberships
and its custom-designed $20 T-shirts, which resemble the Pittsburgh
Steelers logo with marijuana leaves replacing the red, yellow and blue
hypocycloids. He explained the proposed legislation and urged people
to ask their legislators to support the bill.

Nightingale said the Pittsburgh organization hopes to branch out into
Armstrong, Beaver, Butler and Washington counties as well. He's
looking for residents who would benefit from medicinal marijuana and
would be willing to testify if a legislative hearing is scheduled in
Allegheny County.

"Fear that (marijuana use) would just go crazy like in California,
that's just not going to happen in Pennsylvania under this proposal,"
Nightingale said.

He said the bill would allow cultivation of six plants and establish a
distribution system overseen by the state health department.

Many of those who attended the meeting declined to give their names.
They said they learned of the meeting via word of mouth, fliers, the
newspaper and the Internet.

Joe Santavicca, who organized the Westmoreland gathering, lives in
Penn and runs a construction firm. He has no reservations about being
identified with the organization or its goals.

"I've been a NORML activist for 16 years. I've seen first-hand
addiction problems certain prescription medications can have on people
with my mother. ... She was addicted to pharmaceuticals and was never
able to get off government assistance," Santavicca said.

"Marijuana is a much safer alternative, and its use should have been
OK'd a long time ago," he said, adding that the therapeutic use of
marijuana to treat cancer, glaucoma and AIDS patients "is

Santavicca concedes that passage of the medical marijuana bill is at
least "two or four years" away, but he believes its passage is inevitable.

Both gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett, a Republican, and Democrat
Dan Onorato, have indicated they would veto such legislation. Sen. Jim
Ferlo, a Pittsburgh Democrat, is the only legislator in the region to
publicly voice support for medical marijuana legislation and the
Senate companion bill.

"(Opponents) are eventually going to be overwhelmed by favorable
public opinion. There's just no excuse today," Santavicca said.

Public opinion polls indicate support for the bills. A Quinnipiac
University poll released in December found that 59 percent of
Pennsylvanians statewide say medical marijuana should be legal, while
35 percent say no.

Santavicca said the Westmoreland chapter will sponsor several hikes
and rides to promote awareness. The next is at 10 a.m. Sunday on the
Five Star Trail from Lynch Field to Youngwood.

For more information on other area activities, contact the
organization's website: 
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