New Jersey is taking the lead. Will we follow?
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."
Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate voted 22-16 to pass a bill legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Yes, after hearing testimony from sick people, 16 people managed to vote against the bill. Not surprising, of course. First, some background: A lot of people in California buy their weed legally (under state law) in medical dispensaries; [...]
Did you hear about the Houston woman arrested for allegedly smoking pot during jury selection for a marijuana case? How about the teenagers (also in Texas) alleged to have dug up a corpse so they could use the skull as a bong? Or the Kentucky man caught with two "large baggies" of marijuana after cops noticed him pumping gas into an imaginary vehicle? These are recent, true stories--but they're also the prevailing images of drug users in the news media. Most people don't use illegal drugs. In 2005 the National Center for Health Statistics reported only 8.1 percent of the population had used an illegal drug within the past month. And most people who don't use illegal drugs don't know illegal drug users. They aren't aware of the local lawyer who relaxes with marijuana on weekends, the student who occasionally uses amphetamines to study, or the chipper who uses heroin recreationally. Drugs are dangerous. Drugs ruin people's lives. Drugs can kill. But that doesn't mean they always do. The truth is, most people who use drugs--both legal and illegal--do so responsibly and without any noticeable detrimental effect. Drug policy analyst Mark Kleiman of UCLA wrote last year in The American Interest: "Most drug use is...
Search "salvia" on YouTube and you'll find a ton of videos of teenagers acting incredibly stupid. One ponytailed redhead says it feels like her mouth is going to fall off, as her friends laugh at her; a kid can't stop laughing while staring at his hands; another girl has a big smile as she says, "This is weird." The videos are purportedly of people using salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant that's unscheduled in the United States--meaning it's currently legal without restriction in most states. Indigenous populations in Mexico have used salvia divinorum (Latin for "sage of the seers") for centuries in shamanic medicine. Salvia use has grown in popularity in recent years partly as word spread on Internet messageboards. Naturally, the law stepped in. Several states including Delaware have already placed salvia in Schedule I, the class supposedly restricted to drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. A North Dakota man recently became the first person in the U.S. ever arrested for salvia possession. Media reports have jumped on the story with a nice dose of fearmongering. NBC's Bay Area-affiliate incorrectly described the drug as "potlike." An Associated Press story wondered if it was "the next marijuana." The drug isn't...
For those who want complete reform of American drug policy, this week's primary election doesn't offer much hope. President Nixon began the modern-day war on drugs in 1969; almost 40 years later all the presidential candidates--besides, of course, Ron Paul--enthusiastically support it. What if all the candidates for president in 2044 were to favor staying in Iraq indefinitely? Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have far superior drug policy plans than Republican nominee John McCain, who claimed to not even know that many federal raids on state-approved medical marijuana patients have taken place. Not to mention his wife Cindy is chair of one of the nation's largest Anheuser-Busch distributors, making McCain unlikely to support any marijuana decriminalization efforts just to prevent competition. Both Democratic candidates are preferable to McCain, but neither is the reformer this nation's drug policy needs. They both favor ending the mandatory minimum sentencing disparity, which until recently treated 100 grams of powder cocaine the same as one gram of crack. (Currently it's 20:1.) Both have vowed to stop the federal DEA raids McCain didn't know about. (But in a recent interview Clinton simply said she didn't think it was a "good use of law enforcement resources"...
In 1972 President Nixon appointed former Pennsylvania governor Raymond Philip Shafer, a Republican, to chair a commission studying marijuana usage. The commission came to a stunning conclusion: Mariju...
If you totally spaced on the Marijuana March down South Street on Saturday, you can still maintain your cred: Just tune into State Sen. Leach’s press conference today. He’s got a little surprise for Pennsylvania’s toking class.