By Stepahine Schnupp
Nearly two years ago on April 6th, 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill to legalize medical cannabis, commonly referred to as marijuana, for qualifying conditions and ailments as detailed on the website for pa.gov. There are currently 17 conditions that qualify for medical use, including cancer, seizures, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), inflammatory bowel disease, various types of epilepsy and autism. As of February 15th, 2018, medical cannabis is now legal for qualifying patients in the form of vapor, drops, tinctures, and since the summer, dried flower.
With the successful implementation of a medical cannabis market in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf and newly-elected Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman have begun exploring the possibility of legalization for recreational use. As of 2018, 33 states have medical cannabis programs. Of those 33 states, just 10 have legalized recreational cannabis use including Michigan, California, Colorado, and Washington. State House Rep. Jake Wheatley introduced a bill for legalization of recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania on Feb. 4, 2019.
In a tweet responding to public comments, Governor Wolf said, “More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, and we need to keep learning from their efforts. Any change would take legislation. But I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.” Lt. Governor Fetterman has been making waves with his involvement in cannabis discourse and education within public and local domains, and has opened his office to public comment on the matter. Fetterman is currently visiting all 57 counties in the state on a listening tour to learn what residents think about legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
One result of the growing trend of legalization is that more platforms have been created to educate wary citizens and encourage deeper discourse, although major media outlets and other organizations are reluctant to join the conversation in a productive capacity. CBS Universal recently declined to air a $5 million ad from Acreage Holdings, a medical cannabis company which depicted the benefit of medical cannabis in the lives of real patients: a young man who suffers from seizures, a war veteran with an amputated leg, and a recovering opioid addict. The ad provides commentary on the silencing of medical cannabis discourse and inspires contemplation of how problematic it can be to deny the measurable benefits it can provide to many people.
With the delay of legalization comes the missed opportunity to study and learn more about the plant’s benefits, its effects, and other, non psychoactive uses. The rapidly growing CBD and hemp-infusion industries have been changing the way most people see cannabis and the benefits it can provide. Scarcity of information leaves open space for dangerous misconceptions and propaganda.
Legalization would also ensure safe access to cannabis. Consumers would be able to purchase a genuine cannabis product from a state certified dispensary with virtually no risk of intentional contamination by other substances. Even though incidences of cannabis tampering are very rare, it can and does happen in an unregulated illegal marketplace. A few cases of synthetic cannabis laced with rat poison have recently been documented in Illinois, resulting in the deaths of two young men. “This is an unusual outbreak,” Renee Funk of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Associated Press. “Investigators are not sure yet how the fake pot got contaminated,” Funk said, “but the CDC has dispatched a team of investigators to Illinois…to help pinpoint the source and hopefully identify the culprits.”
“Each day we’ve seen the number of cases rise,” said Nirav Shah of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Synthetic cannabinoids are unsafe. They are not regulated and people don’t know what chemicals may be in them, like rat poison.” Legalization has been shown to be an ideal solution: the state generates revenue by taxing dispensary purchases and consumers are protected from synthetic and toxic substances. Medical cannabis has been proving to create billions in revenue nationwide, with exponential returns for the investment of participating states. Research findings from the Colorado State UniversityPueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research, show that “a taxed and regulated cannabis industry contributed more than $58 million to the local economy”, reports the Denver Post. “While there was about $23 million in added costs to legalization – including law enforcement and social services – the county still ended up with a net positive impact of more than $35 million.” CSU-Pueblo has also made headlines for its scholarships funded by tax on local cannabis sales. Last year, Pueblo County was able to dedicate $420,000 in scholarships for 210 students. This year, the scholarships are expected to “top $750,000” reports KOAA.
While it may take some time, education, and conversation, Pennsylvania will undoubtedly be hearing more about legalization of recreational cannabis in the imminent future. As the governor said, “We need to take a hard look at marijuana. We need to study it, understand its complexity, and infuse it into society in a healthy and maintained manner.”
Editor’s Note: To submit your thoughts on this topic to the Lt. Gov’s office, visit: http://www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuanafeedback/
Stephanie Schnupp is an Undergraduate at Slippery Rock University.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 49 No. 2 March 2019. All rights reserved.)