Why Not Medical Marijuana?

New Jersey is taking the lead. Will we follow?

By Brendan Skwire
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Aug. 9, 2009

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And that's the way it will continue to be if State Rep. Mark Cohen's medical marijuana bill dies. So I spoke to Leon Czikowski, a research specialist for the Pennsylvania House who's working with Cohen on the issue. He told me, "The bill is before the Health and Human Services Committee, so right now it's beyond our control. However, medical marijuana patients have met with Congressman Oliver, the chair. I can't speak for Mr. Oliver, but I'm pretty sure he'll add it to his schedule.

"So I'm cautiously optimistic, even though there are about six Republicans who are adamantly opposed to it."

After that, Czikowski says, it's a process of education. "Once the bill gets out of committee, it has to go through the whole House, then the Senate, and then onto the governor. So now you're talking about educating 203 House members to get the 102 votes necessary to pass. You need 26 Senate votes, and the governor's signature. It's like pushing a large rock up a hill: it's hard but once you get to a certain point, momentum really builds."

I asked Czikowski whether he thought medical marijuana in New Jersey, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, would have any impact here in Pennsie. "From what I'm reading," I said, "it almost seems like they'll have a parallel to our state store system for liquor. Will we have Pennsylvania police staking out the weed distributors the way they stake out Jersey liquor stores?"

Czikowski didn't think so. "I think the political impact will be positive," he said, "because when our neighbors pass laws like this, others follow. Legislators say 'Let’s take a look at it.' In fact, one of our arguments is 'This is what New Jersey does.' The patient's doctor needs to recommend using marijuana, the health department provides a special ID, which you can then take to a compassion center."

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, and chief executive of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, expects the state to establish its medical marijuana program by the end of this year. He set me straight on what Jersey's considering.

"It will depend on which bill reaches the governor," Wolski said. "Say the Senate bill passes. This allows patients who want to use marijuana to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, where they'll get (an) ID card permitting them to possess, use, and cultivate marijuana. Under this bill, patient can grow up to six plants, and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The Assembly bill is much more restrictive: in their version, patients can’t grow your own, but have to go rely on nonprofit alternative treatment centers. On the other hand, the Assembly's bill doesn't list limits for patients: it a bit more like a business. Personally, I think Senate version is better: the Assembly's responding to fears about the California model."

As for the regional impact, Wolski told me, "Since the New Jersey bill has gotten movement, bills have been introduced in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"The real issue isn’t Pennsylvania vs. New Jersey, but the feds, who insist marijuana has no medical value, it's unsafe, and can't even be used under a doctor's supervision. It’s absurd: doctors prescribe more dangerous, highly addictive drugs every day, and yet they can’t prescribe marijuana. So yes: it will affect the region, but most importantly it affects the feds: if New Jersey passes this bill, that'll make 14 states, with more than 25 percent of population, with medical marijuana. The federal government will have to see reality. The best impact passage will have is to increase pressure on the feds to revisit the inappropriate way marijuana is scheduled."

I think it's clear that progress is steady but slow (and this is just for medical marijuana: Pennsylvania's going to have get as desperate as California before they even consider legalizing and taxing pot for recreational use and revenue enhancement).

Which means that for the immediate future, my buddy Barry's going to have to keep stuffing weed down his pants and hoping it doesn't fall out. Either that or move to New Jersey at the end of the year.

Unrelated to medical marijuana, State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pillegi is holding our city hostage in a misguided effort to force Ed Rendell to accept the Senate Republicans' insane budget. Sean Dorn, writing at Young Philly Politics, published a must-read letter, that I urge all everybody to read. (Here's a related petition.) Long story short: Sen. Pileggi is refusing to consider Philadelphia's temporary one-cent sale tax hike -one stinkin' penny- until the state budget passes, a process that could take months.

This may force Mayor Nutter to lay off 3,000 city workers, including 732 police officers and 200 fire fighters, and to close all its libraries and recreation centers as well as the entire park system: Pileggi is creating a public safety disaster for me, you, and everyone else who lives in Philly.

But guess who's paying for the stadium in Chester? Me, you, and everyone else who lives in Philly, every single time we pay a toll on the Ben Franklin, the Betsy Ross, the Walt Whitman, and the Commodore Barry Bridges: the first three serve Philadelphia, and get WAY more traffic than the Barry. As Dorn writes, "So in essence Philly residents, including 3,000 city workers potentially facing layoffs, are helping to support [Pileggi's] new stadium every time they drive across the Walt Whitman bridge to go to the Jersey Shore." Is that fair play on Pileggi's part?

I don't think so, and neither does Dorn: so sign the petition asking the governor and the DRPA to "stop funding for Chester's soccer stadium as long as Philly's city budget is held hostage."

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Amy said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 10:37AM

“Medical Marijuana law:yes. This is a no-brainer. If you've ever seen a terminally ill patient waste away (my dad was 6'1'' and 135 poounds), you'd pretty much do anything to help them maintain their appetite and relax.

Pileggi - post his home address so I can find out if his family has access to emergency help like police, paramedics and firefighters, libraries, or a staffed park. This guy is a TERRORI$T. An economic crisis is a Homeland Security issue (see WW II) and to play games with us is criminal. Where's a US Attorney when you need 'em?”

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2. d. buskirk said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 10:38AM

“This issue is so frustrating to discuss because it defies all rational argument. Doctors can prescribe morphine but not marijuana? Even my square parents (in their 80's) have gotten on board the legalization train at this point. Makes one wonder if it is kept illegal because the prison industry needs bodies to fill their jails...”

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3. brendancalling said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 11:01AM

“@amy: there are two addresses in chester county for dominic pileggi. one in chester itself, one in chadds ford. not sure which is which.”

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4. Izzy zaidman said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 11:35AM

“I say we just dub him Barry Weedballs and call it a day.

Another highly amusing read by BF Skwire. Of course I, and anyone with a halfway rational mind would instantly agree that medical pot ought to be allowed in general principal. Medical is medical after all right?

However I'm afraid that some sympathetic critics might say that your friend Barry is not a doctor and by a certain stretch of logic, taking the law into his own hands. Which from a legal perspective, is usually frowned upon. Those same sympathetic critics might say that he and his client ought to fight to change the law rather than breaking it.

I am not one of those critics. My truth is clear. It is patently absurd for any government, especially our Federal government to pass laws banning plants that grow naturally out of god's green earth. Countless billions on enforcement and the incarceration of non-violent offenders... Double Absurd. Weed ought to be legal PERIOD. Not just for cancer victims and Barry.”

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5. brendancalling said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 11:42AM

“barry weedballs makes me think of Freeball.”

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6. Storm Crow said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 01:28PM

“I would like to invite all of you to run a search on "Granny Storm Crow's list- July 2009". The list is a short introduction followed by hundreds of links to medical cannabis studies and articles. After you have read my list, you will be outraged that cannabis is not freely available to everyone!

And blessings on you for your compassion, Barry- weedy balls and all!”

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7. vision sf said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 01:55PM

“excellent read b~ thanx for the wonderful way you make a point and entertain! as a californian i see the whole juxtaposition of fed's vs. medical going on all the time. when my cousin had stage 3 breast cancer medical marijuana helped save her. she just couldn't eat during chemo and keep anything down without it....and chemo when on for months! thanx to her prescription and her local medical marijuana club she got through it that much easier. as if anything about cancer is easy :[

props to barry for doing a good thing in a bad situation--more people should have the balls (sticky as they may be) to help out a friend in need as he does. i'm just glad he didn't get busted :] can i send him a box of those ziplocks with the easy-to-close-zipper?”

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8. Phillygrrl said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 03:46PM


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9. frankdawg said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 08:13PM

“Barry should buy one of those hollow canes people sometimes fill with booze. He could put the baggy in the cane & the cane in the trunk. If stopped he claims he found the cane just that morning & tossed it in his trunk to see if he could find the actual owner.

OTOH at some point the whole stupid war on some people who use some drugs has got to stop. How do we make that happen when we can't even have a civil conversation about health care?”

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10. evil is evil said... on Aug 10, 2009 at 09:53PM

“Is there anyone besides me and a lot of foreigners that think that the us gov't has gone institutionally insane?

Oh single payer is terrible, but 180 billion dollars a year for two unwinnable wars is A ok.

The congress should be strung up for trying to buy 8 airplanes, when the military has a Gulfstream or better for every single admiral or general, somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 damn private planes for their sole use.

That almost all of congress and senate are for sale to the highest bidder. There actually is a site dedicated to showing how much in bribes they took from whom that have been officially reported
The site's numbers don't show the correct figures, remember the congressman who commandeered a plane to rescue somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 in cold cash from his freezer during the Katrina disaster. I mean here is guy too stupid to give AIG the cash to stash in Switzerland for him.

A senator from Illinois who BOUGHT the position and is still in the Senate.

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11. Anthony Marino said... on Aug 11, 2009 at 11:11AM

“It's obvious, no drug company wants a chemical thats easily grown and is 100% effective treating patients with just a phone call to the local dealer. So watch how you vote...the goverment now a days is an opportunist. Sin tax? Ciggerates, beer. Need I say more? Enjoy the weed, and dont dont let the goverment off that easy with all the pain and heartache they've forced upon us over the years making an harmless drug such as marijuanna a crime. Grow your own, keep it away from children and help out a friend whos in need....A friend with weed, is a friend in deed.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Aug 12, 2009 at 08:10AM

“The pharmaceutical companies profit off of pain, sickness and death. To all who oppose legalization, which do you think the big companies are going to go with: Legalize marijuana...less medicine, less doctor visits, patients getting better, OR...keep it illegal..more medicine, medicine to deal with the side effects brought on by the medicine, many more doctor visits, patients getting sicker and sicker. To the opposers, where in that situation do you see the most money being made? There are billions of dollars at stake, only to be found in continued dependance on man-made chemicals, not in natural ways to get better.”

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13. j davis said... on Oct 22, 2009 at 06:12PM

“I am now in my 60's and honestly believe that the US will not legalize cannabis in my lifetime which is a real shame. Not only should it be legal for medicinal purposes but also for recreational use. I get so tired of the fake 'morality' of the US government which thinks nothing of giving an 18 year old a weapon and sending him overseas to slaughter human beings but somehow sees cannabis use as 'evil.'”


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