6/15/2011 by Chris Goldstein - State Representative Mark B. Cohen has re-introduced a bill to regulate medical cannabis in the Keystone State. The legislation, HB1653, has a new name: The Governor Raymond P. Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. This refers to the Republican former governor (1967-1971) and PA party leader.
In 1971 Shafer was picked by President Richard Nixon to direct The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Working in an early form of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana was classified as a prohibited drug. This was thought to be temporary and the blue-ribbon panel was tasked with exploring the issue to determine the final placement .
The team of sociologists, psychologists, physicians, lawmakers and policy experts toured the country to conduct careful research and observations. Shafer then led the effort to craft the final report: “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” It was strikingly candid. The conclusion was that cannabis should not remain in the current narcotic drugs scheme. The Commission went further, recommending that personal possession of cannabis – even transfer for no remuneration – should be decriminalized.
There were also some very clear recommendations for medical use:
Historical references have been noted throughout the literature referring to the use of cannabis products as therapeutically useful agents. Of particular significance for current research with controlled quality, quantity and therapeutic settings, would be investigations into the treatment of glaucoma, migraine, alcoholism and terminal cancer. Read full report
President Nixon was not pleased with the Commissions’ assessments and chose to leave them out of policy. Cannabis remains in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act describing it as having “no medical value.” This is why states pass compassionate use laws for seriously ill residents.
Rep. Cohen first introduced the medical marijuana legislation in Pennsylvania in 2009. Public support has been very strong: Franklin&Marshall showed 81% voters back the issue.
Rep. Matthew Baker (R) chairs the House Health Committee where HB 1653 has been referred. He has expressed fierce opposition to the concept of medical marijuana. However Baker did allow a healthy debate, overseeing several hours of Committee testimony in 2009.
State Senator Daylin Leach re-introduced the compassionate use bill in April, so the measure is now active in both chambers. SB1003 is on the desk of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee chaired by Sen. Patricia Vance (R). A registered nurse, Vance has not taken a strong position on the medical cannabis issue. But she has stalled the bill; refusing to hold a hearing or call a vote.
Republican legislators in Harrisburg have been shy of the popular topic despite a Quinnipiac poll showing that 49% of Republican voters in PA support the medical cannabis bill.
The “War on Drugs” was declared by President Nixon 40 years ago this week. A majority of those efforts have been directed against marijuana consumers. There were more than 25,000 arrests last year in Pennsylvania just for possession of 30 grams or less. There is no data on exactly how many medical marijuana patients have become victims of prohibition.
The name of the PA compassionate use bill is a fitting memorial to Governor Shafer. Applying his vision for a common sense marijuana policy would be a great benefit for Pennsylvanians today.
UPDATE 6/23/2011: PA Medical Marijuana Bill On the Move
Grassroots link: www.pa4mmj.org
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Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions? email@example.com