Pennsylvania – Editorial: Time is right to legalize medical marijuana

June 2, 2009 – State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Phila., introduced legislation (H.B. 1393) at the end of April that would allow the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Few subjects stimulate the heated discussion legalizing a drug vilified for decades as a gateway to further drug abuse can cause.

But Cohen is right to say the time has come to recognize a need to expand options for health care and help alleviate patient suffering.

Medical cannabis, (commonly referred to as “Medical marijuana”), refers to the use of the cannabis plant as a physician-recommended drug.

Its use is legalized in Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Finland and Portugal and in 14 U.S. states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Pennsylvania joins four other states considering medical-marijuana bills — Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York.

One of the earlier difficulties facing legislatures attempting to legalize the use of marijuana to alleviate patient suffering has been the response of the federal government.

Under the administration of George W. Bush, federal agents raided California “dispensaries” selling medical cannabis, claiming the state had no right to pass the bill since marijuana was prohibited under federal law.

That has changed under the Barack Obama administration. In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would no longer raid medical-marijuana clubs that abide by state laws.

At the news conference announcing his legislation, Cohen noted that modern medical research has discovered marijuana is beneficial in treating or alleviating the pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions. The other option for helping those with such illnesses is prescription painkillers.

But as Cohen said, “Many of today’s prescribed pain medications have severe side effects and reactions that can be so horrible some patients would rather have the pain. Many of today’s pain medicines are strongly addictive, leaving people with terrible withdrawal difficulties.”

So addiction cannot be a reason to refuse patients medical cannabis because legal medical marijuana is not physically addictive for most people.

Cohen said a survey on his Web site – — found 80 percent supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. And there is good reason. Opposition to this bill seems to be based on fear and misinformation.

A woman dying from brain cancer two years ago was able to get marijuana in pill form to alleviate her suffering. The pharmaceutical company manufacturing that pain reliever charged her $200 for each pill.

Cohen’s bill remains in the House Health and Human Services Committee. It is a fair attempt, as he said, “to create a new image for marijuana – one as a medicine that when prescribed by responsible doctors could help thousands of patients across this commonwealth.”

Cohen is not asking for marijuana to be sold to anyone who asks for it. He wants sick patients with a doctor’s prescription to be able to go to an approved facility and get something to relieve their pain — something that would benefit the patient, not the pharmaceutical company charging an outlandish fee for a single pill.


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