While only two states — Colorado and Washington — have now passed legislation that allows their respective residents to legally purchase and use marijuana, several other states, including Pennsylvania, have yet to allow its use for medical reasons.
However, legislation that will permit those older than 21 and with a physician’s approval, to possess and use up to an ounce of marijuana is now before the state General Assembly.
The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act would allow the drug to be used for the treatment of cancer, glaucoma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), seizures, Crohn’s disease and other illnesses.
Children, too, with parental consent would also be able to have the drug prescribed, if passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.
State Rep. Timothy Mahoney, D-South Union Township, said that the legislation has positive aspects because it would aid those suffering from serious illnesses.
“I am likely to support (the act) when it comes to the floor,” he said. “However, it is going to have to be policed to ensure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.”
Many states that already have medical marijuana laws on the books are looking at taking the next step to follow Colorado and Washington in decriminalizing its use for recreational purposes.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit medical use of marijuana, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Michigan, Illinois, New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon California, Colorado and Washington.
Florida will vote in November on whether to legalize the use of medical marijuana.
There are also similar moves being made in Alaska to do likewise.
According to an early March poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, Pennsylvania voters support the legalization of medical marijuana but are divided as to whether the state should follow the same path as Colorado and Washington to legalize its use for recreational purposes.
In the survey, 85 percent of those polled, including Republicans, Democrats, male, female and senior citizens, supported the use of medical marijuana, with the numbers split evenly when asked if the drug should be legalized for recreational use.
The poll showed that men support recreational use by a 55-42 percent margin while women are opposed by 54-42 percent.
Democrats, moreso than Independents and Republicans, believe it should be legalized while voters, ages 18-29, say they would support legalization while those over 65 say no.
“Pennsylvanians think overwhelmingly that marijuana is equal to or less dangerous than alcohol and join the American trend toward tolerance for both medical and recreation use,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Mahoney, meanwhile, said that he has yet to decide if he would support the decriminalization of the use or production of small amounts of marijuana.
“On one hand, it could reduce the prison population, but on the other hand, its regular use could lead to more serious drug use,” he said. “I believe we should take small steps while at the same time educating our young people on the dangers of drug use.”
Colorado voters approved legislation last year to legalize marijuana with stores opening their doors in January.
Businesses must comply with numerous regulations that track licensing, sales, production, advertisement and the type of containers that must be used among others.
Adults, age 21 or older, are permitted to grow up to six cannabis plants. The consumption of marijuana is allowed in the same manner as alcohol.
Like alcohol use, consumption is not permitted in public with Colorado laws regarding alcohol similarly imposed for the use of marijuana.
Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, who signed the bill into law, estimated revenue of $134 million from the new initiative.
In January, the Colorado Department of Revenue reported that $14 million of recreational pot was sold by 59 businesses with the state coffers expected to garner $2 million of the receipts.
Within the first two weeks of the legalization of pot use, Denver police Chief Robert White advised city council that his department was making about one arrest each day for public marijuana smoking and seven burglaries of marijuana businesses, with only one of those incidents at a recreation drug store.
“Looking at the number of burglaries that we have in general and the number of burglaries we have of dispensaries, that number is probably relatively consistent,” White said, according to the Denver Post.
In Washington, voters also supported the legalization of small amounts of marijuana use by most adults and the taxation of the product.
Like Colorado, while the bulk of the revenue is to be earmarked for healthcare and substance abuse and education, 18.7 percent will go into the general fund.
Possession by anyone 21 years old or younger, possession of larger amounts or unregulated growing of marijuana, remains illegal under the new state law.
The producer, processor and retailer must obtain a $250 license and pay $1,000 for a license to operate in subsequent years, according to the law. Each also must pay a 25 percent excise tax, in addition to all other general, state and local taxes.
Pennsylvania Sen. Mike Folmer, of Lebanon, who along with Sen. Daylin Leach, of King of Prussia, are sponsoring the medical marijuana legislation, said that medical professionals and patients should have the option to choose their treatment.
“As a cancer survivor, I believe under the guidance of a medical professional, patients should have every opportunity to combat their illness and have the liberty and ability to use cannabis as a weapon in their arsenal of treatment,” said Folmer. “Medical cannabis has been proven effective across the nation, but, unfortunately, Pennsylvania patients have no access to the natural plant.
“By prohibiting the use of medical cannabis, I believe we are denying our most vulnerable citizens an improved quality of health and, therefore, life.”
The legislation, he continued, would balance individual freedom and the obligation of elected officials to consider the “wider social good.”
“We also believe our recommended approach will permit Pennsylvanians to exercise control in useful and efficient ways, while reserving their sense of privacy in battling illness,” said Folmer.
Mahoney, meanwhile, said that he does not anticipate a vote on the medical marijuana legislation until later this year.