The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 1, 2014

Pot laws create difficult decisions

HARRISBURG — Amy Hagerich didn’t know her son, Jacob, was experimenting with marijuana.

Unlike most stories that start that way, Hagerich said, the drug turned out to be just the thing he needed.

Jacob suffered a variety of health problems, including neurovascular dystrophy, a condition he’d had since he was a toddler. Doctors had prescribed a variety of treatments, with limited success, Hagerich said. His vomiting was so frequent, he had to be home-schooled.

Then, after trying marijuana recreationally at age 14, Jacob discovered that it helped him far more than any other drug, his mother said. He was able to return to school. He graduated. He got a job.

The problem for Jacob, of course, is that marijuana remains illegal. Hagerich, who lives with her son in Greensburg, said that has forced them to make tough choices balancing his health and the law.

Jacob, now 20, has been arrested. While on probation, he’s been plagued by his inability to pass a drug test. A judge is threatening to put him in an in-treatment drug rehabilitation unit to get him to stop using the marijuana that he and his mom insist enables him to function in society.

“He has gone through a nightmare,” Hagerich said. “It’s been horrible.”

One state at a time

Their story typifies the sort of painful decisions advocates say could be alleviated by legalizing marijuana – at least for medical use. Even with mounting support to add Pennsylvania to a list of 20 other states that have done so, significant roadblocks remain. Foremost is Gov. Tom Corbett, who has said he’s unwilling to legalize marijuana, even for medical use, and that such a decision ought to be made in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, advocates are using the stories of patients such as Jacob Snee to sway lawmakers in hopes of legalizing marijuana one state at a time.

Jacob’s mother said she was terrified of the ramifications of turning to marijuana to treat her son, but she ultimately decided that his quality of life was more important than following the law. The decision paid off in some ways, but also came back to haunt them.

At some point, Hagerich said, it seemed safer to grow marijuana rather than buy the drug from dealers. That was until police one day visited their home looking for a friend of Jacob’s, then discovered his marijuana plants in the process, she said. That led to Jacob’s arrest.

Now he’s faced with a choice. He can give up marijuana to comply with his probation. Or he can continue to flout the law so he can continue to function. He chooses to use marijuana.

Jacob said that the legal fight is interfering with his efforts to try to become a productive member of society. If he doesn’t use marijuana medicinally, within days he feels overcome by nausea.

“I just don’t want other people to have to go through what I’m going through,” Snee said. “It disgusts me.”  

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