Pennsylvania has become the 24th state in the country to legalize medical cannabis since the law was passed on April 13.
As of this past weekend, joints weren’t the only thing being passed in the state — the bill legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania was sailed through passage by the House on April 13 and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf four days later.
The move makes Pennsylvania the 24th state in the country to legalize medical cannabis.
About two and a half years after the bill — known as Senate Bill 3 — was first introduced, the co-sponsors, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-District 17) and Sen. Mike Folmer (R-District 48), saw the fruits of their labor realized when Wolf signed the law.
“Marijuana is medicine, and it’s coming to Pennsylvania. Children with intractable epilepsy, veterans with PTSD, grandparents with cancer and thousands of other sick Pennsylvanians will finally get the help they need,” Leach said in a statement prior to the signing.
“This is the most significant piece of social policy enacted in Pennsylvania in generations,” Leach’s statement continued, “and it would never have happened without Sen. Mike Folmer and grassroots advocates, who all worked tirelessly to show dozens of previously unconvinced legislators how marijuana could bring relief to thousands of suffering Pennsylvanians.”
It will take about 18 to 24 months before the program is fully enacted. Those who are prescribed the medicine for the 17 qualifying conditions, such as autism, Crohn’s disease, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder, can visit dispensaries in the state.
Many in the Jewish community besides Leach see the benefits of such a bill.
Robin Schatz, director of governmental affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said that while the Jewish Federation did not take a stance, she personally has high hopes for the legalization of medical marijuana.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of Federation because we did not take a position on the bill or with the Jewish government affairs committee,” she said. “These are my personal thoughts: I’ve listened to testimony that’s been presented. I personally think that this a good thing, especially for children who suffer from seizures, people who suffer from glaucoma or general pain issues because of cancer — it’s a win-win for the commonwealth.”
One of the main concerns that might come up as the bill takes effect is making sure that the drug is not abused. Schatz, however, pointed to provisions in the bill designed to prevent that result.
“It’s a good first step,” she said, “especially as they’re going to put in place regulations to make sure that marijuana will be given to people who are truly in need of it.”
While she doesn’t see this as any kind of stepping stone toward Pennsylvania legally allowing recreational use of cannabis anytime soon, it is interesting to note that this bill’s passage was a bipartisan achievement.
Pennsylvania is a conservative state in many ways, she explained, so decriminalizing marijuana recreationally would not be a “next step” issue. But the fact that Leach, a Democrat, and Folmer, a Republican, worked together on the bill and each saw the benefits is definitely something to note.
Within her own experience after talking with doctors and hearing how this will help those coping with illnesses, Schatz said she “can’t see but how this a good thing.”
Steve Auerbach, a lawyer for a license acquisition and continued compliance firm in Narberth, played a big role in the passage of the bill. For him, it wasn’t just a legal feat, but also a personal one.
“I view medical marijuana as a medical issue, not a political issue,” said Auerbach, who attends Aish HaTorah in Philadelphia. “And, at the end of the day, I believe it’s a civil rights issue for the physician to be able to determine what is in the best interest of their patient, not a politician.”
The belief in the benefits of legalizing medical marijuana can be seen in the numbers.
In a Newsweek article in 2014, a study found that in the 13 states at the time that passed laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana “between 1999 and 2010, 25 percent fewer people die from opioid overdoses annually.”
That success will extend to Pennsylvanians, too, Auerbach believes.
“Now with this passage, more than 200,000 Pennsylvanians will be able to benefit from this program,” he said. “That ranges from very sick children with intractable epilepsy to our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and this is going to help with the opiate pandemic in Pennsylvania. We have seen across the board in states that have adopted these laws that they have seen a 28 to 30 percent reduction in opiate overdoses.”
Auerbach, whose office was involved with the bill from its beginnings a few years ago when it was first introduced, proposed guidance and amendments. He feels there is a Jewish obligation to have seen this bill through.
“Jews have historically played a role in civil rights activism,” Auerbach said. “Jews marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jews played an integral role in ensuring safe access to safe medication in Pennsylvania. It’s an obligation to fight for access to medications that can objectively help you. It’s therapeutic, the benefits are well documented, it has a strong safety profile.
“As a Jew and a father and human being,” he continued, “my heart aches when I see sick children and our very sick veterans without adequate medication.”
The main problem that many might have with the idea of legalizing medical marijuana is a potential lack of control, said Dr. Daniel Eisenberg.
Eisenberg, a radiologist at Einstein Medical Center, publishes articles on his site jewishmedicalethics.com
about the Jewish approach to ethical questions — and medical marijuana is one subject he has been thinking about.
“From a therapeutic point of view, it really doesn’t matter what the drug is,” Eisenberg said. If the active ingredient in marijuana could be extracted and put in a pill form, “no one would object.”
The only reason there is concern about medical marijuana as a legal medication is that it is an illegal drug that “has never been thought to have any medically useful properties,” he said, but many of the narcotics that doctors prescribe as painkillers have addictive qualities.
The concern he has noticed has been how to control the dosage.
“Part of the real objection is as to whether the push is truly for medical purposes or an excuse to allow people to get marijuana,” he said. “If there are medical conditions for which cannabis would be efficacious, that would be a worthwhile thing to pursue. The question is, how do you do it?”
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