The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 1, 2014

Pot laws create difficult decisions


HARRISBURG — Growing support

Snee’s lot would be better if he lived elsewhere in the United States. The states of Colorado and Washington became beacons of the movement to legalize marijuana when voters approved ballot measures last year allowing adults to use small quantities. Eighteen other states allow restricted use of marijuana for medical purposes. Others still have lessened or removed penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug.

In the mid-Atlantic, Delaware is planning its first “compassion center” to grow medical marijuana by the summer. Patients in New Jersey already have access to medical marijuana. And, earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed that his state should become the 21st to approve the medical use of marijuana.

Polls in Pennsylvania indicate broad support for medical marijuana, as well. A Franklin & Marshall survey released Thursday found support among 81 percent of those who responded.

In November, more than 50 people rallied in the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg for medical marijuana’s use. They included parents of children suffering from seizure disorders who said legal drugs simply aren’t as effective as marijuana.

The children’s stories helped sway Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont.

Once people understand the issue, Wozniak said, they tend to support it. For instance, cannabis used to treat children with seizures isn’t smoked; it’s typically delivered as oil in a dropper.

Children with seizures have become faces of the medical marijuana debate, but they represent only a fraction of the patients who would seek access to the drug.

In Michigan, two-thirds of the 118,368 people who received medical marijuana last year said they used it to treat severe and chronic pain. Another 18 percent cited severe muscle spasms. Epilepsy was cited in just 1 percent of the cases.

Waiting on Washington

Not everyone is as convinced of marijuana’s effectiveness. Among the biggest doubters in the state is the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which remains opposed to medical marijuana until more research is done – an official stance that belies varied opinions among doctors.

During a panel discussion sponsored by the society, Dr. Lee Harris, a neurologist, noted evidence that shows the success of cannabis treatments for children with epilepsy, as well as patients with chronic pain and nausea. Research to confirm those findings has not taken place, Harris said.

“It’s reasonable to consider it as a treatment,” Harris said. “The benefits outweigh the risks.”

Others in Pennsylvania – Corbett among them – say it’s up to the Food and Drug Administration to do that research and make that determination. A decision doesn’t appear imminent, however.

As more states approve the medical use of marijuana, federal regulators warn they don’t “serve the interests of public health because they might expose patients to unsafe and ineffective drug products,” said Morgan Liscinsky, an FDA spokeswoman.

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