Pennsylvania will never be mistaken for one of the most forward-thinking states in the union, and its leaders in Harrisburg are more backward, in general, than the people they represent, but we would hope that members of the Legislature took note this week of a new Quinnipiac University poll on medical marijuana.
The survey found 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters polled are in favor of allowing adults to avail themselves of medical marijuana if prescribed by their doctors. The respondents were split pretty much evenly on whether possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use should be decriminalized.
But first things first. It’s fairly clear to most by this point that marijuana has legitimate benefits for people suffering from certain illnesses. It has been used to ameliorate pain, muscle spasms, nausea in people undergoing chemotherapy, and has even shown some promise in helping those with multiple sclerosis and people dealing with epileptic seizures.
Smoking marijuana, like smoking any substance, brings with it a host of health concerns, but there are other ways in which the drug can be ingested. And as we all know from watching television advertisements, virtually every drug carries the threat of some side-effects. Many of the substances that are being pushed on TV can actually kill you, in some instances. The next marijuana overdose death would be the first one.
We would argue that marijuana use is less of a threat to users’ health and to society than alcohol and cigarettes. Much to our chagrin, the state of Pennsylvania is still in the business of selling alcohol – and taxing it to the hilt – and our state and federal governments are reaping big bucks from taxes paid by smokers.
On the flipside, we can only begin to guess how much money is wasted at virtually every level of government in policing, prosecuting and housing those accused of minor drug crimes. The police news we publish includes report after report on those arrested for possession of piddling amounts of marijuana, or for having a pipe in which to smoke it. What a foolish waste of everyone’s time and resources this is. Certainly, we can’t condone people smoking marijuana, then driving a motor vehicle. But they’d be no more a risk to the rest of us than people taking some of the vast array of prescription drugs doled out like candy in today’s society, many of which can make their users groggy or otherwise negatively affect their faculties. Who knows how many of those folks are sharing the roads with us every day.
A bill that would legalize medical use of marijuana is pending in a state Senate committee. Even if passed, it seems unlikely that it would be signed by our current governor, who indicated recently that he would await direction from the feds before taking such action. But Tom Corbett might not be governor this time next year, and most of those from the opposing political party who are vying to unseat him are friendly to the idea of approving medical marijuana. One of the Democratic candidates, former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary John Hanger, supports legalization and taxation of marijuana.
It’s highly doubtful that Pennsylvania, in the short term, would legalize recreational use of marijuana. But we would hope that in the name of helping those who are struggling with painful and debilitating illnesses, our leaders would at least make the drug available to those it might help, without their having to risk arrest and incarceration.