Pubdate: Sun, 11 Oct 2015
Source: Times-Tribune, The (Scranton PA)
Copyright: 2015
Author: Bill Wellock


State House Working Group Sifts Through Claims.

The papers and opinions on medical marijuana kept coming across Rep. 
Aaron Kaufer's desk. Advocates and opponents wanted their chance to 
convince him. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE Young marijuana plants stand 
under grow lamps at the Pioneer Production and Processing marijuana 
growing facility in Washington state. A total of 23 states and the 
District of Columbia allow medical marijuana programs, according to 
the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mr. Kaufer, R-Kingston, was a member of a bi-partisan working group 
in the state House of Representatives looking at the issue of medical 
marijuana. After months of research and meetings, the group sent its 
conclusions to House Majority Leader Dave Reed in September. The 
conclusions gave guidelines for how a potential medical marijuana 
program could be implemented.

The process involved sifting through plenty of claims about what 
medical marijuana could and couldn't do.

"It wasn't just one of these things like, 'Here's every disease in 
the world that could potentially be treated,'" Mr. Kaufer said. "It 
was 'Show us the documented evidence of where it's being done in 
other states and its success or non-success on these things.' Really, 
it was learning case-by-case and disease-by-disease what was being 
used and what was appropriate and what was not appropriate."

The group distilled hundreds of pages of laws and opinions and 
testimony from more than 100 people into eight conclusions that went 
to Mr. Reed. He is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, where 
medical marijuana legislation Senate Bill 3 currently sits.

With a legislature examining the issue more thoroughly than before 
and a governor who has said he is in favor of changes to current 
laws, the status of marijuana in Pennsylvania could change.

A total of 23 states and the District of Columbia allow medical 
marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Organizations representing cannabis advocates, doctors and law 
enforcement all have opinions on how a potential change could happen 
in Pennsylvania.

Senate bill

In May, the state Senate passed a medical marijuana bill by a 40-7 margin.

It's one of three completed medical marijuana bills, plus a 
preliminary draft of another bill, introduced in the legislature 
during the 2015-2016 legislative session.

The Senate bill would create a State Board of Medical Cannabis 
Licensing and would have allowed doctors and nurse practitioners to 
prescribe medical cannabis to patients. It could come as an oil, 
ointment, tincture, liquid, gel, pill or similar substance, but 
patients were forbidden to smoke it.

In the latest version of the bill, patients with 15 medical 
conditions qualified for medical cannabis: cancer, epilepsy and 
seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), 
cachexia/wasting syndrome, Parkinson's disease, traumatic brain 
injury and post-concussion syndrome, multiple sclerosis, 
spinocerebellar ataxia, posttraumatic stress disorder, severe 
fibromyalgia, HIV/ AIDS, glaucoma, chronic or intractable pain where 
other methods of treatment no longer have therapeutic or palliative 
benefits, Crohn's disease and diabetes. The Department of Health 
could authorize more conditions to receive treatment.

Other legislation

This is not the first time Pennsylvania's lawmakers have tried to 
pass medical marijuana legislation.

Since 2009, lawmakers have written 13 bills on the issue.

The working group in which Mr. Kaufer participated also used another 
bill from this legislative session, House Bill 1432, in its research.

House Bill 1432 would allow a medical marijuana program under the 
control of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Under the House bill, doctors could prescribe medical marijuana for 
serious medical conditions. The list of conditions is more limited 
than in Senate Bill 3, and the bill would allow a maximum of 20 
dispensaries throughout the state. Patients would be able take 
medical marijuana vaporization or in oil or pill form, and smoking 
and edibles are prohibited.

Medical opinions

Calls for medical marijuana aren't coming from representatives for 
the state's medical community.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, the professional association for 
the state's physicians, says doctors need to conduct more research on 
medical marijuana.

Law enforcement

The Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association has not taken a 
position on any legislation, Executive Director Richard Long said.

"If Pennsylvania is going to enact medical marijuana, then there need 
to be safeguards in place with to make sure it truly is only 
accessible to those it is intended to help. In other words, we don't 
want a situation where it opens to door for illegitimate claims of 
needing access to the marijuana," he said.

Advocates, citizens

Jeff Zick has another plant in mind to serve as a model for marijuana laws.

"It should be regulated like lettuce," he said.

Laws regulate production, but people can usually grow, ship, sell and 
consume it without law enforcement getting involved.

Mr. Zick, 34, of Hop Bottom, organized a pro-marijuana rally in April 
in Scranton. He is an advocate and wants to see full legalization. He 
thinks medicinal marijuana should have been legal long ago.

"Twenty-three other states have some kind of medical program. We have 
to be the last to get one and act like it's something new," he said.

Mr. Zick's opinion on legal marijuana is in the minority in 
Pennsylvania. Only about 40 percent of registered voters think it 
should be legal. Local lawmakers don't support it either.

Medical marijuana is a different story.

A poll from the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall 
College's Floyd Institute for Public Policy finds that most 
Pennsylvanians agree that medical marijuana should be legal.

In the poll, conducted in June, 87 percent of voters said they 
favored allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes 
if a doctor recommended it.

For now, the issue remains in lawmakers' hands. The current state 
budget stalemate has disrupted normal work, but the legislature is 
now starting to resume a normal routine, Mr. Kaufer said.

"I think we will be considering that sometime in the near future, I'm 
just not sure when," he said.


Where lawmakers stand on pot issues

The Citizens' Voice, sister paper of The Sunday Times, asked 
legislators in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties for their positions on 
medical marijuana, industrial hemp, decriminalization and legal 
marijuana. Here is what they said:


Mike Carroll (D-Avoca)

Medical marijuana: "With strict oversight by a physician with respect 
to medial use and with strict oversight by the state for its 
availability, I support the use of medical marijuana for specific 
ailments. In my view, if our family doctor recommended medical 
marijuana as the best option to treat a member of my family and I was 
convinced it was a safe option, I would embrace this usage just as I 
do with other medications which a medical doctor has prescribed."

Industrial hemp: "Consistent with the federal Farm Bill of 2014, I 
support a change in Pennsylvania law to allow for the cultivation and 
processing of industrial hemp. This product, with only trace THC 
levels, is a product used in a wide range of applications and poses 
no danger whatsoever of illicit use. Senate Bill 50 provides a solid 
framework for the introduction of industrial hemp."

Decriminalization: "Considering the very real distinction between a 
dealer and someone in possession of very small amounts of marijuana, 
I generally support a reduction in the grading of the offense for 
possession of small amounts but do not support total decriminalization."

Legal marijuana: "I oppose the legalization of marijuana."

Marty Flynn (D-Scranton)

Medical marijuana: "I'm pro-medical marijuana. I actually don't think 
the current bill goes far enough with just the oils and the inhaling. 
I don't see why the plant itself can't be used."

Industrial hemp: "I introduced a bill with Rep. Russ Diamond that 
came out of committee in which the state universities would run a 
pilot program for industrial hemp. I think it's a huge upside to the 
industry of Pennsylvania."

Decriminalization: "Without a doubt I support that. Incarceration is 
costing us billions of dollars a year. The War on Drugs been a failed 
policy, especially in the instance of marijuana."

Legal marijuana: "I do support full legalization but at same time I 
think the best way to go through the process is to start with 
medical. .. I don't think we should jump in right off the bat per se, 
but I do support it."

SENATORS John T. Yudichak (D-Plymouth Twp.)

Medical marijuana: "Constituents who could benefit from medical 
marijuana and many more that had a family member who could have lived 
more comfortably with the availability of medical marijuana have 
shown me the serious need for this medical treatment. The legislation 
I support provides for the responsible, compassionate medical use of 
marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions."

Industrial hemp: "I also support a measured and regulated approach to 
making industrial hemp more available for a wide range of commercial 
and agricultural uses in Pennsylvania."

Decriminalization: No comment.

Legal marijuana: No comment.

John P. Blake (D-Archbald)

Medical marijuana: "I support medical marijuana and have voted in 
favor of SB 3 which would effectuate a sound and well regulated 
medical marijuana regimen in Pennsylvania."

Industrial hemp: "I am not thoroughly informed on issues surrounding 
the industry of industrial hemp save that I am marginally aware of 
its successful uses and applications as a result of production of the 
product in other parts of the world. My colleague from Lackawanna 
County, Rep. Marty Flynn, has looked into this matter more deeply 
than myself and he advises me that it could be an economic 
opportunity for Pennsylvania if we permit its growth and production here."

Decriminalization: "I would be willing to look closely at that but we 
need to ensure that we get it right. It is worth exploring this, 
again in concert with our federal partners, in order that we avoid 
having non-violent offenders labeled for life as felons or for our 
corrections costs to be skyrocketing due to the incarceration of 
people for non-violent, minor marijuana-related offenses."

Legal marijuana: "I do not support the legalization of recreational 
marijuana use."

Lisa Baker (R-Lehman Twp.)

Medical marijuana: "Until there is a substantial shift in the view of 
our leading medical professionals, and until there is more scientific 
study verifying the purported benefits, I will be a "no" vote on 
medical marijuana. However, I support clinical trials for kids whose 
conditions do not respond to traditional treatments."

Industrial hemp: "Federal law seems to be a serious impediment to 
farmers in the states where industrial hemp has been legalized. It is 
hard to see any advantage to Pennsylvania acting as long as the DEA 
remains resistant."

Decriminalization: "I support re-examining mandatory sentences and 
other criminal justice laws that have caused prison populations and 
correctional costs to soar. I have voted for several bills aimed at 
altering sentencing practices."

Legal marijuana: "I do not support a broad legalization of marijuana."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom