“I want to take the Wild West out of cannabis and bring it into a controlled, medical environment,” State Senator Mike Folmer said repeatedly during the medical marijuana round table last Thursday, an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.
Folmer’s journey to become a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 3 was of a personal and educational nature.
“I’m from a very conservative area,” Folmer said. “I’m a Bible-thumping Presbyterian, but when I learned about the research, I realized we’ve been lied to for 70 years about the cannabis plant.”
The main purpose of the round table was to present the information available on medical marijuana.
As discussed by the speakers, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug by the Nixon Administration. President Richard Nixon, as part of his War on Drugs, launched a commission to investigate the effects of marijuana as little was known about the plant at the time.
The Shafer Commission found that marijuana was not particularly dangerous and should be treated the same as alcohol. Nixon did not like this and had it classified as Schedule I, alongside heroin, LSD, crystal meth and other drugs that are described by the Federal government as having no benefit to humanity.
As such, it is extremely difficult to perform research on medical marijuana in the United States. Much of our knowledge comes from scientists the Federal government employs in other nations.
In the 1980’s, the University of Mississippi was permitted to grow medical marijuana for a few patients suffering from diseases ranging from glaucoma to exostosis, a rare bone disorder. Although medical cannabis proved to be a successful treatment, the program ended during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, as part of an administrative policy of being hard on drugs. However, a few patients continue to receive Federally provided medical marijuana.
One of the main reasons Folmer supports medical marijuana is because of the extreme danger of current prescription drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. They are toxic, extremely addicting and have enormous amounts of side effects.
Another guest speaker, Patrick Nightingale, a defense attorney and director of the Pittsburgh NORML pro-marijuana legalization lobbying group, said pharmaceuticals have become a major gateway drug to heroin addiction. A patient who is on Oxycontin can easily become addicted and once his prescription is cancelled, may look for underground means to purchase prescription drugs. Such people quickly discover heroin is far cheaper.
In addition to being a major cause of heroin addiction, pharmaceuticals are heavily polluting our waterways.
“We have trout that our sexually confused in the Susquehanna,” Folmer said. “Male trout with egg sacs. Cannabis isn’t just nontoxic, it’s environmentally safe.”
The proponents emphasized medical marijuana will be highly regulated.
“I didn’t need to show my ID to the kid next to me at my locker in high school when I bought a bag of weed from him,” Nightingale said, stating that medical marijuana will only be available via prescription from doctors, and Senate Bill 3 will specify what medical conditions cannabis can be used for.
One specific application of medical cannabis is for appetite stimulation in people going through chemotherapy. As is well known, THC overstimulates appetite leading to the “munchies,” but for chemo patients, THC can restore appetite to normal.
“A person dying from cancer isn’t going to say, ‘yay my life is great now because I can smoke weed.’ They’re just going to be happy they can eat now,” Nightingale said.
“It’s not a miracle medicine,” he added. “It’s not going cure cancer.”
As with any prescription drug, medical cannabis containers will contain a list of harmful side affects, although Folmer and Nightingale both said that research shows cannabis is less harmful than most prescription drugs and alcohol.
“Hundreds of college kids die every year from drinking themselves to death,” Nightingale said, adding that you can overdose on aspirin, but it is impossible to overdose on marijuana. “We can’t say we don’t know the long term affects of marijuana. Just go to a Willie Nelson concert.”