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Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Pa. makes progress on medical marijuana legalization

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved legislation on the use of medical marijuana with wide bipartisan support this past Wednesday. Senate approval is the next step, and Governor Tom Wolfe, along with other supporters of the bill, are optimistic it will pass, as the Senate has approved medical marijuana legislation in the past, once in 2014 and again in 2015. Pennsylvania would be the twenty-fourth state, not counting D.C., to legalize medical marijuana.

Passing this bill will grant access to medical marijuana for people suffering from a wide variety of conditions. A multitude of studies have shown a variety of medical benefits from the use of marijuana and isolated cannabinoids. Marijuana increases appetite in patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS and eating disorders. It decreases nausea and other symptoms associated with chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS treatment and Hepatitis C treatment. It stalls seizures from epilepsy and Dravet’s Syndrome, particularly in children.

Marijuana can be instrumental in treatment for chronic pain, muscle spasms and anxiety disorders, especially Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can prevent blindness in people with glaucoma by lowering intraocular pressure. It can also subdue the symptoms of arthritis, Crohn’s disease, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis, depression, psychosis- the list goes on and on. However, only six percent of marijuana studies are dedicated to its medicinal properties. 

The bill would place a five percent tax on Pennsylvania marijuana growers and dispensaries, with the proceeds split between funding the program, law enforcement, drug abuse counseling and further research. That’s 5 percent split four ways. 

If we assume it’s split equally, which it most likely is not, that’s one-fourth for further medical research. Is that enough when, according to studies by the California Pacific Medical Center and the American Association for Cancer Research, cannabinoids can prevent cancer cells from spreading and slow tumor growth to a halt, or when, according to another study by the Scripps Research Institute, marijuana can derail the progression of Alzheimer’s disease?

No, I don’t think it is enough.

Now perhaps I’m biased. In 2013, my mother was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and for two years, I watched her shrivel up and waste away as her own blood and bones turned against her. Her doctors told us there was nothing they could do, and maybe there wasn’t. However, medical marijuana wasn’t, and still isn’t, available in Ohio. But the cancer-treating, slowing and stopping effects of cannabis are old news. Medical research and progress is held back by marijuana’s continued federal status as a Schedule I drug and by persistent opposition from the right.

Approval of medical marijuana is also a positive step towards legalization for recreational use. For the time being, let’s dismiss the ideological arguments for legalization of recreational weed and focus on a more pragmatic approach- the undeniable benefit to Pennsylvania’s economy. 

Imagine the millions of Pennsylvania jobs created from medical and recreational marijuana growth, processing, distribution and sales. Imagine the almost obscene amount of tax revenue Pennsylvania stands to gain- money the state desperately needs. The two states that have already legalized, Washington and Colorado, are reaping the benefits. In 2015, Colorado’s marijuana sales exceeded $996 million, and the state gained over $135 million in revenue from weed taxes and fees.

Hopefully, someday down the line, Pennsylvania will reap these benefits, too.

This shouldn’t be a political battle, or a moral one—legalization is just practical, on all fronts. Medical marijuana is a godsend to millions of Americans, and although progress is surely on its way, it remains a slow, up-hill climb.

As more and more research is done on medical marijuana, it opens the door, or at least cracks the door slightly ajar to let in a thin strip of light, to the possibility of further research on the medicinal properties of other Schedule I drugs. Micro-doses of psilocybin, the active compound in what are colloquially known as “magic mushrooms,” have been proven to aid in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders like OCD, PTSD and cluster headaches. Small doses of both MDMA (what the kids call “Molly” or “ecstasy”) and LSD have also been proven helpful to those struggling with depression and anxiety disorders. DMT and mescaline, naturally-occurring compounds historically used in ceremonial rituals by a number of Native North and South American tribes, have been shown, in clinical settings, to have psychiatric benefits for people with terminal illnesses. 

What we consider “party drugs” have the potential to be so much more than that. I am amazed and incredulous that medical research on these substances continues to be hampered by political opposition and ridiculous drug classifications, when benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin, legal speed such as Adderall and Ritalin and opioid painkillers are some of the most-prescribed drugs in the United States. 

But that is one of many conversations that America is not yet ready to have. We have to walk before we can run, and Pennsylvania’s House vote to approve medical marijuana is undoubtedly a baby step in the right direction.

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