Medicinal value: Pennsylvania should allow doctors to prescribe marijuana

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Proponents of legalizing medical marijuana made a strong case during an emotional hearing in Harrisburg on Tuesday, joining a chorus of voices from across the country who believe that laws against it ignore valid studies and the needs of chronically ill people.

The focus of the hearing was Senate Bill 1182, a bipartisan measure that would allow patients with debilitating conditions to purchase medical marijuana from licensed centers as long as they have a recommendation  from their physician. Americans in 20 states and the District of Columbia already can do that; it’s time for ailing Pennsylvanians to have the same opportunity.

The quest in this state may be a pipe dream for now. Gov. Tom Corbett has promised to veto the bill or any similar measure while marijuana remains illegal under federal law. There is also opposition in both chambers of the Legislature. Nonetheless, state lawmakers should work to advance this bill and others like it that follow until the proposal becomes law.

Sen. Mike Folmer, a conservative Republican who represents Lebanon and Lancaster counties, became an unlikely proponent after meeting with parents of children who have epileptic seizures. In states where the medicinal use of marijuana is legal, physicians have routinely recommended it to relieve symptoms of many conditions — seizure disorders, cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress syndrome among them.

So far, the effort toward legalization does not have the support of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Instead, it wants the federal government to give marijuana a less dangerous designation so more testing can be done, suggesting an openness to the idea that it has medicinal possibilities. Other doctors think the testing done so far is persuasive.

Lee Harris, a neurologist who oversees a multiple sclerosis center in Eastern Pennsylvania, said during a telephone press conference Tuesday that numerous studies have confirmed that marijuana is safe and effective, and he believes it should be available to patients who have failed to respond to other treatments.

Doctors who want to do no harm, but who also want to provide the best treatment available with the fewest dangerous side effects, should be allowed to offer it to suffering Pennsylvanians.

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