Not if, but when, marijuana becomes legal in Pennsylvania

A hundred years ago, cannabis was a major cash crop in this state. Now, the unmistakeable shift toward re-legalization promises a new economic windfall for the future.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 42 | Posted Oct. 2, 2013

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SMOKING POT IS AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE: It helps people achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, if we are to listen to David Kowalsky. “Life,” he tells the Independence Mall audience from his perch atop a stubby bench. “It saves people’s lives. It kills cancer cells; it helps children, adults, everyone, get through the most difficult times in their life.” He continues: “Liberty. It is our freedom to consume a plant that helps us stay away from all the big Pharma, the chemicals they want to pollute us with. It hurts nobody.”

And the pursuit of happiness? That one seems pretty obvious. “Who’s not happy when they’re smoking weed?” he asks the crowd to large applause.

It’s Sat., Sept. 21, and Kowalsky, the CEO of Cannabis Network Radio, is one of eight speakers arguing in favor of marijuana legalization here at the ninth “Smokedown Prohibition” protest in as many months. Today’s topics range from medical treatments to the economic impact of legalization to the seemingly racist way anti-marijuana laws are enforced throughout the country.

The Florida-based radio host’s sentiment is backed by former Pennsylvania Environmental Secretary John Hanger, who wants to be the next governor of the commonwealth. “These [marijuana prohibition] laws are ruining peoples’ lives for the same thing that President Obama and two other presidents of the United States have done,” the Democrat preaches. “That’s unjust.”

Hanger is banking on his support of marijuana reform to act as a catalyst for the Democratic nomination next May—and his ticket to the governor’s mansion in November 2014. He tells the crowd here that his long-shot candidacy would “shock the establishment.” And you know what: While Hanger’s name is not necessarily the first name to come to mind in the crowded Democratic field to replace Gov. Corbett, it’s not the last, either.

He’s right about one thing: A pro-marijuana Pennsylvania governor, in 2015, probably would shock the establishment to its core. A few years later, though? Not so much.

Because pot will be legal in Pennsylvania.

In a statewide poll conducted in May by Franklin and Marshall College, 82 percent of respondents said they favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. While 54 percent said they were against the plant for recreational use, that number has declined steeply since 2006, when only 22 percent of Keystoners approved of legalization.

The swiftly changing numbers led political scientists G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young to conclude upon the poll’s release: “At this rate of change, a majority of Pennsylvanians might favor recreational marijuana before this decade ends and possibly sooner.”

As they watch states around the nation, one by one, begin to legalize marijuana use either medicinally (as 18 states have) or even recreationally (as Colorado and Washington now have), activists like Kevin Clough of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws have grown increasingly confident: “We believe that reform isn’t a matter of if, but when.”

Thing is, no one really knows what legal weed will look like in Pennsylvania—what sorts of impacts it’ll have on our society as a whole. But there are hints. At the very least, legalization would mean this:

A paradigm shift in statewide drug enforcement.

A boost to state economic policy.

And a potential cash crop that Pennsylvania has been suppressing for the past 80 years.

PENNSYLVANIA MARIJUANA LAWS are among the strictest in the nation. There were 20,577 marijuana-related arrests statewide during 2012; that’s down from more than 26,000 in 2011, but still high. (And 6,614 of those were in Philadelphia.) As of 2010, we were in the top 12 states for marijuana arrests, as highlighted in a recent American Civil Liberties Union report that also noted blacks are much, much more likely to get arrested for possessing weed than whites. (Here in the city, five times more likely.) Even so, statewide, whites—who comprise 83.5 percent of the population—make up 71 percent of all marijuana arrests.

Recreational marijuana is not legal. Medicinal marijuana is not legal. Getting caught with 30 grams or less can technically land you a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. More than that? A year and $5,000.

In Philadelphia County, District Attorney Seth Williams created the Small Amounts of Marijuana program in 2010, which allows defendants who’ve been arrested for pot possession to have their charges “administratively withdrawn” if they pay $200 and take a drug class. It’s led to the city saving $2 million—but still allows police to arrest and detain a bro for smoking a joint on the sidewalk.

The program was created to stop clogging the municipal court with pot cases and “spending thousands of dollars on analyzing the drugs, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, the court costs, the police standing around and getting overtime,” Williams noted on a recent episode of Radio Times. Now, the vast majority of these cases go through the new system, leaving those arrested with no criminal record.

It’s an improvement—but Philly’s still got a long way to go. The city is the only spot in the commonwealth, in fact, where if you get caught with any amount of marijuana—a joint or a pound—you get put in handcuffs. It’s not a summary violation here like it is throughout the rest of the state, and that alone costs the city a ton of money.

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Comments 1 - 42 of 42
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1. Les Stark said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 12:33PM

“Great article and thank you!

Two minor corrections, the spelling is Enos Sheaffer and he was not the first person arrested in the state but rather the first person arrested in Lancaster County. Others had already been arrested in the Philadelphia area.

But thank you for you great journalism and it is true, it's not a matter of if but when!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 12:49PM

“There have been several wars over hemp since history began but always before the fights were over finished crops and seeds,,this last one since 1937 was brought through the back door,instead of trying to steal crops or seeds from a weaker neighbor industrialists stole the plant from mankind.”

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3. Ed said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 01:38PM

“Lillian, what 1950's textbook have you gotten your "facts" from?

- Vast majority of Americans have tried pot. A vast majority of Americans still enjoy it, may of whom you may not even suspect.
- There is no evidence pot "kills brain cells". More BS propaganda based on bunk science
- Chances are your daughter is a stoner, and quite possibly your doctor, your pilot, and your local mailman. Plus hundreds of pioneers of industry including Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, multiple olympic athletes, and yes even our own loveable President Obama.

Fortunately, your opinions are outdated and no longer the mainstream. We basically are waiting for you and your generation to die off, along with your ridiculous "facts".”

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4. cmg said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 01:52PM

“OUTSTANDING article! ~I'd give almost anything in my possession~ (pot not withstanding.. and oh..not my children or first born grandchild either! lol) ~ to open up our daily Lancaster Newspaper.. and find THIS article on the Front Page! ..that would be so awesome!.. (they, however, have sticks up their pattooties).. and would most likely bury this INFORMATIVE piece of ~crystal clear newsworthy diamond~ in the deep dark inner sanctions of Section B ~for Boo ..hiss! ~ Write.. and RIGHT.. on good man! Thank you for a great read!”

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5. Lillian said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 02:07PM

“Thanks Ed and I love you back!
Trying pot and regularly using pot is quite different . There is ample data out there to support that brain cells are in fact killed when smoking marijuana on a regular basis and that its effects on growing adolescents are not positive. I would agree the mailman at my post office probably is one or at least gives a good impression of a stoner. Thanks also for being a cheerleader for the famous pot tryer's, but I doubt regular users. FYI: I don't use Apple, don't watch CNN, don't fly on Virgin, and I am most proud to say I did not vote for the current occupant in the Oval Office.
As for the 50's textbook? I wasn't around then and neither during the 60's, and I plan to be around for a long time just so narrow-minded folks like me can piss you off. :)!”

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6. Ed said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 03:09PM

“Oh honey, you don't piss me off. I know your opinion is in the minority and will go the way of those who opposed things like gay marriage, racial equality, and women's rights. You're a dying breed...”

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7. Dan said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 08:37PM


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8. Dan said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 08:54PM

“You hit the nail on the head man! Any way who said they would make it legal for young kids to use. I'm so tired of hearing about the kids smoking. If it was regulated correctly, kids won't have access. I mean do you see kids rolling into the liquor store buying booze?? Not to mention all of the medical benefits. Who are you or anyone to tell someone what they are allowed to use to treat ailments! I just love those people who bad mouth pot while drinking alcohol or are taking prescribed painkillers. The times they are achangin'. And for the better.Wake up people.”

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9. said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 09:33PM

“We are at 20 Medical Marijuana States, plus Washington DC. Marijuana is currently legal in three states, Alaska, Washington, & Colorado.

Pennsylvania needs to flush the good ol' boys down the toilet in Harrisburg for any of this healthy, economy boosting legislation to move forward.

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10. Ian said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 11:01PM

I understand you have your own perspective on pot, but you should look into the facts more. I am not trying to be rude or disrespectful, but you are WRONG. I am very pro pot and I am very against adolescents smoking weed. I admit i have smoked many many times and I am just about to turn 20 this year. I have no desire to bash anybody for their opinion but I will correct the facts. I suggest you check out Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP, via google. They have many scientific papers and documents on the subject. Please do not dismiss information because you believe it must be false. I really do believe in the cause. I hope you read this as I am willing to continue discussing this if you have any questions or arguments that I may not be aware of. Take care!

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11. tielman said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 02:34AM

“I'm always amazed at the money side of this Weed debate. For egs. our presant attempt at a Governor has his eye on the White House and he's got the current userspeak down pat. To the levell we're supposed to applaud and smile at. The rut he's stuck in, as vouched for by a contribution in this discussion who'se ear he has obviously found, is that old kernal the gateway conspiricy.
Assuredly put to the simplest test of all. For the many times when you've been stoned with your friends when if ever did someone suggest we all go and do : herion, crystal meth, coke, opium and ALL THE PRESCRIPTION KILLERS that are legally obtainable, with a Dr.s prescription of course ? When ?
The political impact time is Now. Gov Christy is history. Pennsylvania must begin again its Hemp industry that will allow State Soverenty to finance is own Affairs, assist the Federal Govt. where possible with its debt problems, but that we're doing fine thank you uncle Sam.”

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12. Mario said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 06:45PM

“Unfortunately, you are wrong Lillian. Read any information in new studies and you'll see that THC actually has shown to help cure various cancers, I'm sure when your older and get cancer you wont be opposed to using this amazing medicine. Also you need to read up on your neuro-biology before you start making statements that pot kills brain cells. Sorry to sound like a hater, but I cant stand when people use bunk propaganda to spread lies. Lets see.... huffing substances like glue kill braincells, why? because you cut off the oxygen from your brain.

The active ingredient in marijuana is THC along with cbd,cbdb, and various amounts of other cannabinoids. Do you know how they are recieved in the brain? I doubt it, but I'll explain it to you in the most dumbed down way I can. Basically your brain contains receptor cites that bind different neurotransmitters to receptors, neurotransmitters such as seratonin,dopamine,norepinephrine and so on. continue. on next post due to limitations”

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13. Mario said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 06:52PM

“Things such as eating,exercise and so on release these neurotransmitters, and guess what? what? oh my our brain has contained SPECIFIC cites for cannabinoids to attach to, and why? Because our brain creates neurotransmitters that mimic THC and other cannabinoids. The brain and body readily metabolizes these and maintains a fairly stable levels, unlike introducing lets say heroin, which mimics the pain reducing neurotransmitter endorphins. Unlike heroin though, THC consumption does not down regulate receptor cites as readily(which is what would cause a physical addiction). IN NO WAY does the introduction of said cannabinoids kill Brain cells. You might think that since the effects seem to slow the brain. That is only because the effects of cannabinoids on the receptor cites (through natural cannabinoids) is used by the body to reduce stress, and alot of it has to do with being able to let go of memories. This is why THC is shown to be a very good PTSD medication”

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14. Mario said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 06:58PM

“Also I have smoked pot nearly everyday of my life since i was 16, im now 25. I'm a College graduate with a degree in organizational management(although my passion is pharmacology,neuro-chemistry/biology). And I must say it seems like I'm a lot more educated, interested in being educated about, pretty much anything that has to do with the human body and brain than you are. I'm not trying to bash to hard, but please come with some REAL knowledge next time your going to try and demonize some people's life choices.”

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15. k said... on Oct 4, 2013 at 02:27PM

“I smoke (actually vaporize) twice a day, have for 20 years (I'm over 40). I am a highly motivated, highly compensated technical expert. Pot has not killed my brain cells, my motivation, or my life in any way. In fact, it's allowed me to leave behind drinking alcohol, which I used to do in excess. I have a career, a family, a house and a fantastic quality of life. None of the purported negative effects of pot have materialized for me. In fact, the only negative effect of my marijuana consumption is the fact that I presume my money is being funnelled to criminal organizations, and that's due to solely ot the illegality of it. Stupid stupid law supported by ignorant people.”

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16. VICTOR said... on Oct 20, 2013 at 03:26PM

“Hello, I am 63 years old and I have so much pain to it is ashamed, I need pot for my pain, all these medications that I take don't do anything for my pain. please some one help me, I live in Pennsylvania”

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17. Pauly bagodoughnuts said... on Oct 31, 2013 at 07:58PM

“I consider myself a conservative, but I do agree that Pa needs to reform its Marijuana laws 100%. I think it is a personal choice like alcohol or tobacco, not up to state or federal government to decide. I have, and will continue to voice my opinion to conservative lawmakers and candidates. The decision should be left up to the people.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2013 at 09:12PM

“Just thinking; majority of people I have talked to that do NOT support the legalisation of marijuana are also pro-abortion? Coincidence? I think not. Baby killers. People that smoke weed are too busy putting money towards the munchies and watching horrible films and knowing its bad but its great!! Too high to think about making bad choices, just wanna have fun lay back and have the comfort of smoking and not letting the daily stresses of life impact us negatively so we feel the need to drink. Sit in the comfort of our home and blaze one and you'll see within those few moments you won't even remember why your day was so bad in the first place. LEGALIZE. -Chase I. P.s. my abortion statistic was false.

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19. Anonymous said... on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:54PM

“I can't wait. I am so tired of waking up every morning and wondering, will today be the day I become a criminal? Just because I'm old, I hurt, and marijuana eases the pain and helps these old bones move without pain. I truly hope this happens soon. If not, I'm going to stick a For Sale sign in the front yard, pack the house up, and take my tax paying butt back home to California.”

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20. master grower421 said... on Nov 12, 2013 at 02:34PM

“Lets do it”

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21. Anonymous said... on Dec 9, 2013 at 05:13PM

“Legalize it it can make a lot if profit and it's fine”

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22. Anonymous said... on Dec 16, 2013 at 12:02PM

“I don't know if your information is incorrect or the police officer abused his power, but when I was arrested for smoking weed I was certainly put in handcuffs, but I'm not from Philly. It was not a pleasant experience.”

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23. Mr.legalize said... on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:39PM

“im from PA we need to legalize for ALL uses, I really want to move to Colorado and blase up there, are so many uses for it and most people do it anyway or at least most people I know honestly the sooner the better.”

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24. Anonymous said... on Dec 22, 2013 at 04:20AM

“The one thing I don't hear in all these posts is voting. I live in Pittsburgh and I take 3 different pain meds 4 times a day to help with my pain. I have smoked and I feel so much better after. Unfortunately I don't want to break the law. We all need to stand together and contact our legislators. I have sent letters and emails to our politicians saying I vote and these laws to change. They might not listen to me or my neighbor but thousands who write they can't ignore. In Colorado they didn't listen on the gun laws and got voted out. Use the voting booth to get rid of our old guard will effect the changes we need. They want to keep their jobs.”

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25. amphilos said... on Dec 30, 2013 at 12:46PM

“Thanks for this outstanding post... I could say a lot, about the Lillian's of the world. Also when are we going to wake up and throw the people who come with lies and bad science philosophy out of our body politic. When we realize that the PA State Legislature belongs to the people of Pennsylvania that's the hemp of the matter. If we look at our 100 year history we will have enough information and education as well as ammunition to appeal these lies. The State Legislature is the key in legalizing marijuana for medical recreational and industrial use it would be a win for the mom and pop business within our towns and cities big or small and that's a fact!

Thanks FAYD! Legalized don't penalize!”

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26. Anonymous said... on Dec 30, 2013 at 05:58PM

“Why is it not 18?”

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27. Anonymous said... on Dec 30, 2013 at 06:01PM

“I would qualify but not my age”

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28. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2014 at 03:10AM

“I have widespread body pain due to a rare disease, but I do not use pot to keep me from the pain that makes me feel like I am going to die; I use meloxicam, its legal and with insurance cost less than $10 a month, I'm not drug impaired nor have that pot funk on me.”

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29. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2014 at 03:17AM

“Mario you are incorrect, pot does not cure cancer, it only helps with the side effects of cancer treatment.”

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30. Anonymous said... on Jan 3, 2014 at 06:43AM

“I too am a long time user, not abuser, and didn't even start smoking until I was 18. An adult where under federal law I am legally able to make decisions, vote or even be drafted. If it is regulated, which it would be, it poses no threat to adolescents or anyone else. Especially if I am enjoying it alone, in my own house. Currently you're made to feel like a criminal just to buy it. Or you depend on unreliable & unregulated marijuana, and it's very tragic. I'd love to be able to just pop over to a store to purchase instead, I'm in the position I'm in now; knowing no one trustworthy, unable to buy and unable to sleep for days.

Oh a btw lilian, if you ever get cramps from your monthly period (possibly weekly it seems) you know what would help alleviate that discomfort? No not midol”

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31. Anonymous said... on Jan 15, 2014 at 12:28AM

“No victim, No crime! If the state truly cares about drugs and prostitution then put the money into better treatment programs and education. Stop wasting our tax dollars on victimless crimes. The only benefactors are private prisons. When Pennsylvania voters realize that Corbett is nothing more than a private prison building machine and not interested in decriminalizing anything, maybe then we can talk about silly Marijuana laws that don't make any sense.”

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32. Anonymous said... on Jan 28, 2014 at 12:37PM

“In fact, alcohol prohibition created entirely new opportunities for criminals to build fortunes and did nothing to stop people from drinking. Make it legal and put it in state stores , then we the people would know it isn't cut with something bad. The tax from it would help get our schools out of debt.”

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33. Anonymous said... on Jan 30, 2014 at 07:13AM

“If it's legalized. There should be no smoke shops! It should be dispersed threw a pharmacy in pill form. Also all prescription assigned the user should be forced to surrender all driving privileges. If caught under the influence of the substance should be the same as DUI.

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34. PaStoner said... on Feb 3, 2014 at 04:40PM

“I believe Mary Jane should be legalized (PA Resident). Do some research what harms does smoking a plant do to us. Nothing really but why are two substances such as Alcohol & Cigarettes legalized which are killing us. So PA Please LEGALIZE MARY JANE”

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35. Anonymous said... on Mar 12, 2014 at 08:24AM

“I bet all ur synapses look great, all nice and slow! You're cerebellum, too, nice and fried!!!! GO MJ”

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36. Anonymous said... on Mar 17, 2014 at 01:19AM

“Icant beleive what some of you ignorant stupid sick totally mis-informed crazy communist control freak evil cruel hateful A--HOLES say and think . You never smoked or you would understand how it effects people. Surrender your drivers license, take it in a pill..Are you nuts? People like you should not be able to vote, and need to smoke. And need to suffer with terrible pain so you can learn compassion. You would make a great Dictator.”

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37. Anonymous said... on Jul 4, 2014 at 02:55AM

“I think your all bullshit. I agree it should be legal there is no harm if grown properly but you guys make it out to be a miracle cure of everything. Just admit you wanna get a sense of euphoria and escape stress instead of bullshitting around. Honestly go get a bag of dope and see what one takes away pain faster. A drug is drug but its our choice and this shit is a herb so lwt it be”

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38. Chech said... on Jul 25, 2014 at 01:37AM

“As a long term patient of Fibromyalgia, all I can say is, that medical marijuana gives me much more relief of my pain, than all the medicaments I have to take on a daily basis.
For more than 10 months now, I am using the reliable MOM service from buyweedsonline

Some might be reluctant to believe, that Mail Order Marijuana works, but it does. I am glad to see, that sites, as yours, gives a lot of information for people same as me. thank you all and stay healthy at all times.”

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39. Karl Ray said... on Aug 26, 2014 at 12:00PM

“The post number 38 from Chech is a Fake and a Scam.
Beware of It's a Scam.
Chech is just a fake writer for the scammers to make it like to be legit.
Hand off these guys.”

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40. Gregory Gaudreau said... on Oct 24, 2014 at 02:58PM

“My house was recently served a search warrant. In my house they found a large amount of my personal supply. I have now been charged with all kinds of thing such as RICO and a numerous amounts of felonies. 20 some people wear also targeted on this same day. Since then I have had my name slammed in my local news paper and my family has been made to look like criminals. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have never been arrested or have had any traffic violations in 36 years. Proud home owner parent husband coach helper at scouts for my son. And have brought my new neighbor hood closer than they have ever been. Though I'm still waiting to be given my punishment, my wife has been diagnosed with stage 1 Breast Cancer. Now ripped of all the medicine she would need, we are being buired by hospital bills. There is no $ in the Cure, a 200 Billion dollars industry subscribing everything under the sun. Funny that the real Cure is what they can't prescribe!”

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41. dial420forthecure said... on Nov 20, 2014 at 02:13PM

“I'd like to add that I started smoking at 13. I am now 18, an honors student, and college-bound. suck it.”

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42. Anonymous said... on Mar 17, 2015 at 01:23AM

“I do not wish to say my name unless I have to present my self to congress over this,

I would like to say that marijuana should be legal . I'm 27 years old never been arrested , never done a crime, I been smoking about 17 years now , no damages to my body, no damages to my mind , I speak 4 language's, in other worlds marijuana never killed any brain cells.

Has the part of marijuana being a gate way drug to other drugs its 100% not true , again been smoking for 17 yrs , never done heroin or any drugs .In fact you could even use me has a test subject , coca cola does more damage to your body and yet its legal , cigarette is legal and alcohol is legal . Honestly find it funny that every congress that does not support marijuana being legal is always because they will lose $ if it becomes legal. its not a big deal .In fact I have not smoked for the past 37 days because I wanted to prove that marijuana is not a drug . Should be legal 100% to adults above age of 21 . in fact it does not effect your ability to operate heavy machine . I Have driven after smoking, control heavy machines , done jobs , even saved a life after smoking marijuana, again I would love to be use has a test subject to prove that marijuana is not a drug or does any damages to your body . If cigarette's/alcohol/ coca-cola is legal marijuana should be also .

thank you for taken your time to read this you have a good day :)


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