Republicans and Democrats may continue to spar over the budget in Pennsylvania, but they have come together to pass medical marijuana. In a true spirit of bipartisanship, legislation that would help bring relief to tens of thousands of children, adults and senior citizens suffering from the effects of serious medical problems passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives overwhelmingly last week and — when enacted — will be the first time in the country a Republican-dominated legislative body has passed medical-marijuana legislation.
This is an issue that is very important to me. I have introduced legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives each legislative session since 2009 to legalize medical marijuana. I am honored that my Senate colleagues, Sen. Daylin Leach and Sen. Mike Folmer, also saw the importance of this and introduced companion legislation in the Senate to accomplish this purpose. We met with advocates and together stood up to the naysayers who said this couldn’t be done.
I am most impressed with the efforts of the advocates who have worked tirelessly — who made many, many trips to Harrisburg to meet with me and my fellow colleagues on the importance of legalizing medical marijuana. They brought their children suffering from seizure disorders to educate us on the debilitating effects of the disease. Their message spread, and they kept coming back with their parents, friends and other advocates. Their efforts led to overwhelming public support, which in turn led to bipartisan legislative support, and clearly stands as a testament to the power of the people over the objections of the riches of the pharmaceutical companies and doctors opposing this effort.
My initial legislation to legalize marijuana is vastly different from SB 3, which ultimately became the vehicle for this reform effort. It was an evolution of thought and public discourse, which led to this final version. An equally sensitive issue was legislation I introduced to provide for marriage equality. It became law in 2014 thanks to court intervention. Important here is that both efforts were a reflection of certain populations of individuals who had specific concerns and voiced them — tireless advocates. They spoke and we listened.
The primary goal of legalizing medical marijuana is to provide people suffering debilitating diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s, MS — with additional health-care options that could help to mitigate the harmful side effects of traditional medication. Secondarily, hopefully some revenue can be generated to help mend the budget gap between spending and revenue that we are currently experiencing and may experience for some years to come. At the very least, the program as currently structured should be self-sustaining and not a liability to the taxpayers. It is a major step by forward-thinking law and policy makers.
I look forward to the governor’s signature on SB 3 and implementation of this important program. I think that people deserve to have the opportunity to choose medical marijuana, in consultation with their physician, as part of their overall treatment program. I also look forward to working with the House Judiciary Committee in making improvements to the program over time — strengthen it and hopefully expand access to a wider array of medically needy people. My hope also is that legalization of medical marijuana will in time eliminate the black market for this drug and remove the criminal element associated with its distribution.
State Rep. Mark B. Cohen represents the 202nd legislative district.