Of the many hot-button issues that are bouncing around the rhetoric filled rooms of the state Capitol as of late, one that caught my attention as being particularly egregious is that of the roadblocks being placed in the way of the legalization of medical marijuana via House Bill 1653 and Senate Bill 1003. This is, unfortunately, another case of our legislators, including those in leadership positions, being completely blind to the interests of the public. A nationwide Gallup poll in November of 2005 showed that 78 percent of Americans believe in the legalization of the drug for medical purposes, and a 2010 poll from Franklin and Marshall College found that 80 percent of Pennsylvanians support allowing medical authorization of marijuana.
Numerous medical organizations support the access to medical marijuana for the ill, including the American College of Physicians, the American Public Health Association, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The benefits to legalizing the drug far outweigh the minimal risks, which are, in most cases, overblown and anecdotal, with very little basis in fact. Many substances which are otherwise highly illegal, such as cocaine and morphine, are used regularly in hospitals, so why not marijuana? Allowing those who are suffering from cancer, glaucoma, chronic pain, epilepsy, or many other diseases access to this drug would be a great boon. Chemotherapy patients who are too sick to eat or swallow pills sometimes find marijuana an effective treatment. Studies have shown that marijuana relieves nausea, appetite loss, and severe pain. It also has been shown to increase the chances that HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C patients will stay on life-saving medications.
This is personal for me because I have dealt with epilepsy and would have considered medical marijuana, were it a legal option. Many of the opponents to legalization attempt to propose legal alternatives but do not take into account the fact that these alternatives are too expensive, too addictive, and have difficult side effects.
Many of the issues raised by opponents of legalization have, as per usual, very little basis in fact. It has been shown, time and again, that marijuana is actually a very safe drug, safer in fact than our old friend Tylenol: there are no medically documented cases of overdose deaths from marijuana, while over 500 overdose deaths from Tylenol are registered per year.
The old bugaboo, “marijuana as gateway drug” has also been gradually undermined. A new studyfrom the University of New Hampshire seems to show that teenagers who smoke pot and move on to other, harmful drugs has more to do with outside factors such as employment status and stress. It appears that those students who do not finish high school, do not attend college, and do not seek gainful employment are more likely to pursue more…sundry activities to fill their time. Interestingly, age also seems to close this “gateway”, with these effects subsiding in most people by the age of 21.
In the end, our legislature will have to realize that this is an issue of compassionate action. There are many people who are suffering with horrible conditions much worse than mine that could be relieved by the simple administration of this drug. Just like my decision on what medicine to take for my seizures, it is a private issue, one that should be decided between a person and their physician, not their government.
Evan Stultz, ACLU-PA volunteer, Harrisburg