Proponents advocate for medical marijuana at Greencastle meeting

By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
The public presented reasons why cannabis for medical use should be legalized in Pennsylvania. Rep. Paul Schemel held a Town Hall meeting to find out what members of his district thought about the issue.

The audience of 20 was fairly consistent in its opinion on the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The constituents of Rep. Paul Schemel were in favor of it, and shared anecdotal evidence on why it should be available to people suffering from a wide variety of conditions.

Schemel held a Town Hall meeting Sept. 24 at the Antrim Township municipal building to gather information on the topic.

“There is reasonable debate on both sides,” he said. He added that there was no talk in Pennsylvania of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, as was done in Colorado.

Citizens from Greencastle, Waynesboro and Chambersburg shared their stories after Schemel listed the pros and cons of any change to the law.

Schemel admitted he was initially skeptical of the medical benefits of the several forms in which marijuana could be taken - pills, oils, smoked or eaten. Some research supported its use to help people manage pain, nausea, seizures and other symptoms. And side effects appeared not to be as bad as they were for other painkillers, for example.

However, marijuana was a Schedule 1 drug, Schemel said, which meant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled it had no medical applications. Therefore, it was a felony to possess and sell it, and Pennsylvania did not have an agency to regulate marijuana if it became legal. Under federal law, those who did sell cannabis for medical purposes would have to operate on a cash basis. Accepting checks or credit card payments would be seen as money laundering.

“Most medical associations and physician groups oppose legalization,” Schemel continued. “That’s who we rely on for advice. We’re being asked to do something we’ve never done before with any other drug.”

The stories

One woman traveled to California to assist her mother, in the fourth stage of breast cancer. While hospitalized, no medicines took away her nausea. Finally the doctor prescribed medical marijuana, legal in that state.

“I saw first-hand how it calmed her stomach. I’m grateful she had access to it.”

Now her mom is coming to live with her, since the disease is terminal, and the woman wanted her to have the same remedy.

A man revealed that in high school he smoked weed to deal with his learning disability, and recently earned a diploma in blueprint reading. He was certain he could not have gotten an education without using the drug. He had not smoked since January, which indicated to him marijuana was not addictive, but could feel his symptoms returning.

Another person suffered from chronic pain.

“It’s a crying shame a person can’t try medical marijuana,” he said. “Someone who wants it for illicit purposes already has it.”

Others knew of real benefits to people having difficulties from Lyme disease and autism. A veteran undergoing treatment at Martinsburg VA Center held up a gallon bag of pill containers, his daily regimen.

“I don’t know if medical marijuana would work but I would like to try it,” he said. “If you could help me get rid of this stuff, I’d really appreciate it.”

At the state level

Senate Bill 3, providing for the medical use of cannabis in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, passed the Senate, and is now in the hands of the House of Representatives. Schemel said it would not get full attention until the state budget was approved. A committee had to look at it before legislators could review the details.

When it came time for a vote, Schemel said, “I’m going to weigh the evidence. This will be a lengthy process, maybe into next year.”

He summarized what many people were thinking.

“Everyone wishes the FDA would re-classify the drug. States shouldn’t be dealing with medicines.”