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Health, Science & Tech

Medical Marijuana Hearing Prompts Tense Exchange

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The debate over medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania has long transcended political parties -- instead, it’s dividing people into groups that see marijuana’s medicinal possibilities and those waiting for more definitive research.  

With that in mind, things were bound to get a little tense at a Wednesday public hearing of the Senate State Government Committee.  Panel members heard testimony from one of the staunchest opponents to legalization at this time--the Pennsylvania Medical Society.   PAMED wants to see the federal Food and Drug Administration relax restrictions on medical marijuana first, to allow further study of the drug before it’s legalized.

But supporters of legalization say they can’t wait for federal action,  and some of them are already obtaining marijuana treatments illegally to treat a variety of illnesses, including debilitating seizures in children.  

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), a co-sponsor of the legalization bill, said he knows one such parent already administering medical marijuana to her child.

“She is risking, by giving her child this, being charged with a crime and losing her child,” Leach asked a doctor with PAMED speaking before the committee. “What would your advice to her today be?”

“That’s a very hard question, and it’s emotionally charged,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, a pediatrician. “It’s just a little early. I don’t deny that there may be medical benefits. But you just cannot walk in and say, ‘We’re going to do it. It’s going to be fine.’”

Shapiro said he needs to know more about the long-term effects of various marijuana treatments before he’s comfortable prescribing them.

“For me to look at a baby that has infantile spasms, whose brain is not fully developed yet, and say, ‘I’m going to give you cannabidiol so that you can then stop your seizures, but I’m not going to know how you’re going to do in the fourth grade,’ is a real problem for me,” Shapiro said. “You just can’t go into this with you know the idea of, ‘I’ve made my mind up, don’t confuse me with the facts.’”

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), the other prime co-sponsor of the SB 3, said he’s not giving up on the medical community.

“Doctor, I appreciate your passion and my mission is to convert you,” Folmer said. “Because once I convert you, we’re going to be awesome. And we’re going to move this thing right along.”

The proposal looks likely to pass the Senate. Its fate in the House is unclear. The Senate easily passed a similar bill in September, but House Republican leaders did not call it up for a vote, saying more research was needed.