Pubdate: Sat, 26 Apr 2014
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2014 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Authors: Antony Davies & James R. Harrigan
Note: 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.


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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom