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PA Gubernatorial Candidate John Hanger: Marijuana Reform Can Elect the Next PA Governor

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director August 28, 2013

    John Hanger speaking at a Lancaster NORML Meeting - Photo credit: Matt Rohrbach

    John Hanger speaking at a Lancaster NORML Meeting – Photo credit: Matt Rohrbach

    While the general election for governor is still a little over a year away, things are heating up in Pennsylvania as Democrats vie for their party’s nomination to run against incumbent Governor Corbett (R). Seven candidates have so far announced their candidacy and one of them, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection John Hanger, is running on a pro-marijuana law reform platform and wants to not only decriminalize cannabis and allow for its medical use, he wants to see it fully legalized by 2017.

    With a crowded field, and no required run-off election, it is likely the winner of the primary will be decided by several thousand Pennsylvania voters. John Hanger sees this unique situation as not only a boon for his campaign, but for the marijuana law reform issue. “Marijuana law reform has power to elect next governor,” John Hanger stated, “If just 1 out of 3 monthly marijuana users vote, we will win.”

    John Hanger discussed his plans for marijuana law reform in a telephone interview with NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri. The transcript of that conversation is below:

    What was the impetus for taking up the issue of marijuana law reform?

    John Hanger: The tipping point for me was just running for governor and realizing that I’ll be in charge of implementing laws, that in the case of marijuana, are unjust. I don’t want to be in the position of enforcing unjust laws. I take doing the right thing seriously. I don’t want to deny cannabis to a sick child because our laws require me to do that as governor. I want to campaign to change unjust laws so I don’t have to administer unjust laws.

    I’ve been coming to terms with the seriousness of running for governor and being governor. The marijuana laws in Pennsylvania are unjust. It goes beyond medical marijuana, the criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana is unjust, it is destroying people’s lives. It is branding them as drug criminals for the rest of their lives. It’s hurting them in a way that three presidents of the United States have not been hurt for their behavior. It is beyond hypocritical.

    I’m also very focused on making sure the Pennsylvania budget is invested in the real needs of our state. There is never enough money for all the things that need to happen. There are very important services that are underfunded, but we are spending 350 million dollars enforcing these unjust laws. It means less money for schools, less money for health, less money for roads and bridges. It is destructive to other vital needs in Pennsylvania.

    When you look at whats right and come to the conclusion these laws must be reformed, the public is with us on medical marijuana and decriminalization…the public is ahead of the politicians on the first two steps and I’m leading on the third step. I’m working to champion and build to the third step, legalization, because it is the right thing to do. I crafted this three step reform plan because this will allow PA’s to have confidence in moving through each step.

    What has the reception to your marijuana reform platform been like?

    JH: In terms of the overall reaction it has been positive. The public is well ahead of the politicians when it comes to medical marijuana and decriminalization. So this is an issue that the public opinion is forming and building, and building towards the right result.

    Around 60% of Democrats support legalization nationwide, about 70% of the highly coveted independent demographic support it, why do you think, by and large, other Democrats and politicians have been hesitant to take up the issue?

    JH: I think it is a mixture of not wanting to lead, not wanting to stick one’s neck out. The old saying in politics is that politicians wait for a parade to form and then run to the front to lead it. Most politicians are risk averse. Many politicians, I think, put their finger up in the air and wait to see which way is the wind is blowing and only when the wind is blowing strongly they move. That’s the normal political animal reaction to issues.

    Quite frankly, I’m not a politician. I ran two state agencies…I got into public policy and public life to make changes and help people’s real lives. I haven’t spent my career climbing up a political ladder, thats not my motivation. My motivation is to address real problems in people’s lives and make people’s lives better. For me, this issue is about doing the right thing. I’m going to do the right thing and I think that it is also going to be smart thing politically.

    Why do you think, so far, Pennsylvania has failed to move forward a medical or decriminalization bill? What will it take for that to happen?

    JH: I think we haven’t had leadership in the governor’s office. The governor has the biggest office, the bully pulpit. It effects how people think about issues, has tremendous influence on legislators. I do know how to get things done in Pennsylvania, we never had a governor to get this done in Pennsylvania. When a governor like me is leading the charge it goes to the top of the priority list. I know how to build public support to get major things done. I built my work in state government going back to Casey admin. I’ve been working on policy getting things done in and out of state government for 29 years.

    Quite frankly Governor Corbett, regardless of his politics, is not competent at the nuts and bolts of governing and has been hostile to marijuana reform. Beating him will send a huge message around the country, winning the primary sends a huge message to Democrats that they need to move [on marijuana reform]. When I win the primary, they are going to understand a major reason for my victory will be marijuana reform.

    What can Pennsylvanians do to help advance marijuana law reform?

    JH: The single best way is to make sure I win the Democratic primary. My candidacy is the equivalent of a marijuana referenda on the ballot. By voting for me you are voting for marijuana reform. Politicians will no longer be able to be on the wrong side of this issue.

    Thats what happens, we can win this issue in May 2014, by my winning that primary. It will shock the political establishment and accelerate the changing of the laws by years in Pennsylvania and around the country. I believe Pennsylvania is seen as a bellwether. If marijuana reform can win in Pennsylvania, it can win anywhere.

    NORML’s constituency group is a great group of people who are fighting for justice and fighting injustice. The great news is that we can win this battle in PA in just 8 months, thats exciting.

    You can read more about John Hanger’s campaign on his website here or Facebook page here. You can read his three step plan for marijuana law reform here.

    (VOTER NOTE: Pennsylvania has closed primaries. If you wish to vote in the Democratic primary in May of 2014, you would have to be registered Democrat before that election. There is no Republican primary this year. The incumbent, Governor Corbett, is running for reelection. Party affiliations can be changed at any time.)

    41 Responses to “PA Gubernatorial Candidate John Hanger: Marijuana Reform Can Elect the Next PA Governor”

    1. Ben says:

      F–k yeah.

      The political landscape is changing as the politicians realize the significance of the pro-cannabis voters.

      Much thanks to NORML, and others too…

      Make your votes count!

    2. mexweed says:

      Because the main scare tactic against legalization is to remind everyone of alleged danger to children, I hope Hanger will emphasize the opportunity now at hand to use cannabis to PROTECT children against any need to “experiment” with addiction nicotine $igarettes ($193-bil. per year, USA, medical costs and lost productivity from $igarette addiction; 6,000,000 deaths a year worldwide, calculate from that what figures are relevant for Pennsylvania).

    3. TheOracle says:

      John Hanger said: “There are very important services that are underfunded, but we are spending 350 million dollars enforcing these unjust laws. It means less money for schools, less money for health, less money for roads and bridges. It is destructive to other vital needs in Pennsylvania.”

      Yes, I plan on voting for John Hanger. I live in the Alabama part of Pennsylvania. He hit a lot of buzzwords that resonate well with much of the public: schools, health, roads and bridges. These are all severely underfunded. Philly schools just had to borrow $50 million just to open their doors to students this year. Student loan debt is near the highest in the country because funding of the state colleges and universities kept getting cut, which increased the cost of tuition. Our bridge maximum weights keep getting reduced because we can’t replace them fast enough. Replay that video footage from bridge collapses like that horrible one in Minnesota. I still remember it, but it can’t hurt to remind the public of the chances our current governor Tom Corbett is taking with motorists. More people will be covered under so-called ObamaCare. You have health insurance, right? Well, what if you didn’t? It’s always different when it’s you. Get it?! It costs money, and it’s the right thing to do. People understand saving money and making money and jobs to pay for things the public wants. It’s clear the public does NOT want such things underfunded or eliminated.

      Corbett has failed to find a funding source to fund the programs to provide the quality that the public wants.

      I’m convinced he’s going to use the revolving door once he’s out of office to make money big time off of that tax break he got for Shell out by Pittsburgh. Give a corporation a Billion Dollar tax break while giving the chop to public funding and what do you get? Corbett’s going to want quid pro quo, and it’s going to be something to fill his pockets. The negotiations for Shell involved money so it’s going to be something of value for something of value.

      Get that tv ad stuff going. Get that video footage, and use it. The subtext should always be linked to the meme Where Are You Getting the Money from if you’re Against It? Go for the money grab. Jobs, Money, Funding.

      Whatever you do, though, don’t piss off unions or hunters.

      Be ready for the likes of MomsTell.org’s Sharon Smith and also of former state representative Katie True. Both have suffered the death of a child because of illegal drugs, arguably because of cannabis prohibition. Smith: daughter died of heroin overdose, paints pot as THE gateway drug, yet if there were a separation of soft drugs like cannabis products from hard drugs, then people wouldn’t have to buy cannabis off the same people who are peddling hard drugs. Katie True, I’m not sure about, but I think her son may have been shot as a bystander in gunfire/a crossfire. I certainly understand their anger and fervor, and I do not mean to downplay their losses. We need to try a different way because like every week, especially every weekend there is a shooting in Allentown, Reading, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, and cities all over the Commonwealth. People like them give very persuasive emotional arguments. True is now an advisor to current Governor Corbett.

      Be ready for the full throttle of the Republican smear machine. You can bet they’ll bring in the big guns, the big money, from inside and outside the state.

      It’s time you got the editorial boards (opinion makers) to come around to Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s way of seeing things.

      Good luck!

    4. Frank says:

      I read the article and now I want to help him be the represent the democrat party. I will change my party affiliation to Democrat so that I can vote for this man. I have not heard anyone so honest and direct about this serious subject …. I am in total agreement with everything I read!

    5. Brandon says:

      I’m registered as a libertarian and am from philly. Just graduated this year and now our school district has gone down the gutter. Corbett doesn’t do jack for philly and nutter doesnt give a crap. I’m switching to democrat ASAP. the money we will save with legalized marijuana alone will bring philly schools back to where they should be. It was hectic when I was in school and now it’ll be worse. F-ck corbett

    6. Demonhype says:

      Okay, this is exciting! More and more politicians (and yes, people running for politics who are not, perhaps, politicians, like Hanger) are willing to speak out in favor of legalization, where the subject was once political suicide! For the first time, standing up against prohibition could be the factor that wins the election, rather than throwing it! I only wish I lived in Pennsylvania so I could vote for this guy!

      As for Drug War cheerleaders like Smith and True: okay, I feel sorry for their loss, but they have the facts wrong in their understandably grief-ravaged brains, and the prohibition misinformation they are spreading, laced with rank emotionalism, is going to cost other people their children. It’s like those people who lost a kid in the war, so they want to keep the war going even when it’s a lost cause so their kid will not have “died in vain”–never mind that continuing to fight a failed war is just going to get other people’s kids killed. I feel for them, I understand their grief, but on some level I can’t help but think of them as ultimately selfish, ignoring the facts and spreading untruths and propping them all up with emotionalism to distract from the fact they don’t have any facts on their side. They’re not just working through their grief, they are using their grief as a weapon that is actually dooming millions of other people, and they don’t care, so long as they get to wallow in their delusions and never face the facts of the matter.

      Sometimes facing the truth can be painful. I get that. But when the overwhelming facts are showing that your position is wrong and is actually causing the harm you wanted to prevent, and the scum drug dealers and drug lords you are trying to avenge your daughter on are actually supporting your efforts at Prohibition–well, at some point you’re going to have to break through the sunk cost mentality and stop trying to fight reality.

      enddrugtesting.blogspot.com

    7. Don Berry says:

      Gosh, no jokes or giggles in the interview. I guess that’s only mandatory when the White House addresses the issue.

    8. Human Cannonball says:

      @TheOracle – I hear you, I’m in Northeastern PA and the gun violence/heroin is getting out of hand here.

    9. Elaine says:

      John Hanger will most certainly get my vote!

      To Hell with Gov Corbett!!! It is on his watch that many prohibition atrocities have been committed by this drug war zealot!

    10. Anonymous says:

      I thought Ron Paul was the only honest politician.

      Maybe I was wrong? We can hope. GL my Pennsylvanian Brothers and Sisters!

    11. Douglas says:

      It would be nice if pot heads vote. But they dont. So I am afraid he wont win.

    12. Vince says:

      I have been a registered PA libertarian since 1994 and after reading this articel I have decided to change my party to democrat to help put John into the governors seat. Never before have I read a interview With a political hopeful that was so honest about how thing are and what can be done to fix the problems that be, Gov Cobert FU.

    13. Anonymous says:

      Amazingly enough we are seeing a lot of progress in our state government with marijuana reform. Here is a senate bill about how it would be regulated in the state of Pennsylvania and I definitely believe the revenue from this change could help our nation substantially.

      http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&sessYr=2013&sessInd=0&billBody=S&billTyp=B&billNbr=0528&pn=0830

    14. erin says:

      Douglas, how do you think CO and WA changed their situation? “pot heads” do indeed vote!

    15. Owen says:

      As of right now, he gets my vote.

    16. TheOracle says:

      The legislation for Pennsylvania stipulates a limit of 6 plants. If 3 of them are mature, that means you can have 3 clones or 3 plants in the vegetative state, or some combination within the 3 plant limit for non-flowering, non-mature plants. This is total bullshit if you grow from seed and don’t have a mother plant from which to cut clones. Ask Ed Rosenthal, see what experienced growers write. Statistically, half of the seeds you plant will be male. The males are useless except to pollinate for seed. With just 6 plants the gene pool will be too small to prevent the negative consequences of inbreeding. Look at pictures of indoor grows on the Internet and read up on it. There is no way you’re going to get a lot of weed even from 6 female plants, and the section of the bill states that you have to grow them in an enclosed, locked space. I mean, who the hell thought up this shit? A limit of 6 plants is retarded. That part of the law needs to be changed to something like a 6 female plant limit for plants grown outdoors, and indoors you can have 2 dozen females in flowering, plus 6 indoor mother plants, plus 2 or 4 dozen clones, and male plants don’t count at all.

      In section 4,paragraph 2:

      “2) Possessing, growing, processing or transporting no more than six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants, and possession of the marijuana produced by the plants on the premises where the plants were grown, provided that the growing takes place in an enclosed, locked space, is not conducted openly or publicly, and is not made available for sale.”

      This is the part that has to change. It is not practical, and nobody will stick to it. Everybody will be doing different numbers for whatever strain or types they want. Some strains yield more. Some take longer to mature. If you don’t people will have the grow they show the inspector, and a secret grow they don’t show the inspector, and there will be no red flags as long as they don’t sell more than is allowed, don’t transport more than is allowed or do anything else to draw attention to themselves. I mean, put yourself in a law enforcement perspective as to what people will put up with insofar as the limitations in the law and how enforceable they are. Every state can set its own limit, and 6 like Colorado does NOT have to apply to Pennsylvania.

      Amish Green Corn

    17. john mcclane says:

      stamp makes it legal

    18. St. Nick and Dime says:

      This is great. I live in SC PA, and Im going to vote for Hanger. Think of all the good things that will happen! Millions of dollars, thousands of jobs, people enjoying their time here safely, etc., etc., etc. We need to vote in 2014 Nov. to get Corbett and other republicants out so no one would block Obama and he might then sign pot out of CSA and be a hero and quite possibly the best president ever! Let God help us freely smoketh the herb He/She so cleverly made for humans. The United States would be perfect when Cannabis is made legal. Science has confirmed that Pot is safe and needed by MANY humans. It`s stupid idiocy NOT to legalize it.

    19. G-Man says:

      I am a registered Republican, I vote independent and by the end of next week I will be an official Democrat. I don’t use Marijuana since I am quizzed randomly where I am employed, but my parents do; and I now have to buy them medicine on the streets of PA. Please pray for me that I don’t get busted before we get this guy in office…

      Thank God for a Politician with guts! They are a rare breed…

      My solution has been to get involved on a family level, and I am educating everyone I come in contact with, on a daily basis. I am making it a normal part of my daily conversation at work, at home, at church, and in my PA community. And now I will be getting involved with this gentleman’s campaign.

      Remember that the primary will be critical, since most Pennsylvanian’s that I know, realize that the current governor is a one term’er since his focus has been to blatantly line his and his friends pockets.

      P.S.: My question is… Where have the Doctor’s been this whole time. They are grubbing for more money, speaking out of both sides of their mouths like they have their hands tied; and those that I knew in college were the one’s that had all the good stuff. And they took an oath to help… So much for that code of ethics…

    20. grandma3d says:

      The very same candidates that were scared to death to even mention any
      issue related to cannabis. Now the politicians running for office are using it as a platform for their campaign to political office’s

    21. grandma3d says:

      @Douglas, I am a well seasoned pot head and I vote,I sign petitions, send letters to my elected officials, which averages about 4 to 5 action’s per week just for Cannabis legalization. Also, I am a political activist for not just NORML, but “Stop Violence Against Women and Girls”, ACLU,etc. too many to mention I work very hard for all my causes. What you say and do is your business, but don’t make such a broad statement that potheads don’t vote!

    22. Vape Forest says:

      Strange how significant of a role it’s playing in the elections. No surprise politicians like Obama, who was vying for the general population’s vote, would claim to have been a user at some point.

    23. Mark Innes says:

      I hope the feds don’t use cannabis legalization the way they adddressed the repeal of the 21st amendment. The DEA used to be the Dept. of Alcohol Prohibition. What social defect will they blame for their own theft and inability to to their jobs? Prostitution? Gambling? Swinging? They have already made good on their efforts to end pensions plans and hide their theft of monies given for what is now referred to as entitlement benefits. Our elected officials should never be allowed to pass legislation that only is applied to the general population without the legislators’ being personally effected. Our pensions and healthcare systems should be one and the same. You should not be allowed to fund your eletist’s agendas with public taxes. What do you think this is, Crete?

    24. TheOracle says:

      This July some of us wrote we thought smoking in public in Philadelphia would result in some arrests. Some people thought since pot is decriminalized in Philly that there would be no arrests or citations.

      http://blog.norml.org/2013/07/24/marijuana-legalization-advocates-return-to-independence-mall-this-friday-for-smoke-down-prohibition-vii/comment-page-1/#comment-196065

      9/3 I received this email.

      Dear NORML Supporter,

      We are forwarding you this message on behalf of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — Philly NORML.

      Sincerely,
      The NORML Team
      PA US Attorney Taking Marijuana Protesters To Court

      FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 9/3/2013

      PhillyNORML – Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

      CONTACT: Chris Goldstein or Mike Whiter media@phillynorml.org or (267) 702 3731

      Pennsylvania – A crowd of more than 150 people gathered in Philadelphia on Saturday August 31, 2013 in the eighth monthly rally for national marijuana legalization called “Smoke Down Prohibition.”

      Supported by PhillyNORML and local comedy activism crew The Panic Hour, the gathering took place in Independence Mall National Historic Park at 5th and Market Streets in space preserved for First Amendment activity known as “The People’s Plaza.”

      Local activists gave speeches in front of the Liberty Bell and the group participated in a “moment of cannabis reflection” at 4:20PM when many lit marijuana joints in an act of civil disobedience. Video – http://youtu.be/7oG0XBkehgQ

      Five citations for “possession of a controlled” substance were issued. Emily Yates, a musician and anti-war activist, was scheduled to perform her song “I’d Rather Be High (Than an Asshole…)” but she was arrested and jailed by Park Rangers before the rally began.

      Chris Goldstein, Co-Chair of PhillyNORML, was cited at the June rally and received a second citation on August 31st. Don Dezarn, a Libertarian Party candidate for New Jersey Senate also received his second citation for participating in the civil disobedience action.

      Authorities are not allowing Goldstein and Dezarn to pay a simple fine but are requiring them to appear in Eastern District Federal Magistrate Court to face the charge. Their court dates have not been set.

      Ken Wolski is a registered nurse and Executive Director at the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey (CMMNJ). Wolski spoke at several of the Smoke Down Prohibition gatherings, saying on 8/31 “Civil disobedience is a powerful weapon against injustice. I may be too old to do it myself anymore, but I have great respect for the people who still practice civil disobedience. You are repudiating unjust laws in a very dramatic fashion.”

      From December 2012 through April 2013 there were no citations or arrests at “Smoke Down Prohibition” gatherings and hundreds of people took part. Beginning in May 2013, a massive and expensive multi-agency police response has been mounted against the peaceful protest. National Park Service Rangers, US Fish and Wild officers along with dozens of Philadelphia Police, SEPTA Transit Police and armed Department of Homeland Security agents have been present to intimidate participants and issue a handful of citations.

      “The US Department of Justice has been very clear in repeatedly publishing memos telling federal agencies not to use their resources to target individual cannabis consumers,” said Chris Goldstein today, “It seems like those same agencies in Philadelphia are ignoring that direction and going a step further by attempting to encroach on our First Amendment rights.”

      The next “Smoke Down Prohibition” is planned for September 21, 2013.

      Mike Whiter, founder of Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana and PhillyNORML Co-Chair said, “Overall I think these have been very successful events and we’re excited to keep them growing until cannabis laws change.”

      Pennsylvania has active cannabis reform legislation. The Regulate Marijuana Act, SB528, was introduced in Harrisburg by Senator Daylin Leach this year. The bill would allow adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana in the state-operated alcohol stores. Rep. Mark Cohen plans to introduce the companion bill in the PA House this fall.

      FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Chris Goldstein or Mike Whiter media@phillynorml.org or 267-702-3731

      Looks like they don’t want it done in public like they don’t want drinking in public. That raises the question as to if the Philly authorities would give a shit if the civil disobedience were on private property yet out in the open, such as beer is consumed out in the open on private property in a beer garden. White Dog?

    25. mexweed says:

      Not feeling competent to address the issue of broken promises or law enforcement threats, let me suggest practical solutions:

      1.

    26. mexweed says:

      (apologies for glitch)

      1. The “pen vape”, portable vaporizer, or other products analogous to the “e-cig” now (hopefully sooner than later) replacing deadly H-ot B-urning O-verdose M-onoxide $igarettes for tobacco users, make it possible to ingest cannabinoid vapor anywhere without it being “public”.

      2. A long-stemmed one-hitter is almost as good, can be less expensive and handmade.

      3.

    27. mexweed says:

      Not sure how my reply got twice submitted incomplete, let me try to finish point 3: for public protests and statements, what would be wrong with demonstrating not with cannabis but with legal basil, chamomile, damiana, eucalyptus, fo-ti-tieng, ginseng leaf, hibiscus or other legal material.

    28. Oliver Steinberg says:

      While civil disobedience in dramatic, and I honor the spirit of it and the courage of those who perform it, I believe voter registration is more to the point. If the voters have someone to vote for, as they do in Pennsylvania, then there you go–use the rights you have left to regain the rights that have been ripped off.

      Our ultimate goal is not to defy the law–unjust as it is!–but to CHANGE the law, so that in the future nobody will be put in a cage or fired from a job or have their children taken away by the state just for the act of growing or ingesting a flower.

      I think we as activists should also be “upping the ante”–demanding a blanket pardon or a legislative act of amnesty for all past convictions for cannabis offenses. The racist roots of “marihuana” prohibition are well documented; the racial disparity in enforcement has created the social and economic disaster described as “The New Jim Crow,” and no person who was a victim of these unjust racist laws should be stuck for life with the stigma of criminality for something that in its very nature is NOT a crime.

    29. Charles says:

      I’ll vote for John Hanger. Great to see an honest politician.

    30. TheOracle says:

      Prohibitionists in Pennsylvania are still using the Gateway Theory against pot, when it’s been disproved. Also, prohibitionists are still operating under the false notion that because today’s pot is more potent that it’s more dangerous. Actually, needing to smoke less, if you don’t vaporize, is a good thing because you’ll inhale less smoke. Prohibitionists are always bitching about all the carcinogens in cannabis smoke, and they often make the false assumption that people will smoke as many joints a day as a pack a day cigarette smoker. Toking that much a day is a waste of weed because you can get only so high by vaping or smoking. The writer, and the editorial board and their editorials alike, still do not include the fact that you can vape or eat/drink cannabis infused products. It’s like they brought up the same tired old Word document they’ve been referring to all these decades, re-read previous prohibitionist pieces they wrote, changed a little, and re-wrote it in an article against the new reality that cannabis is moving at a greater momentum toward the legalization end of the cannabis continuum.

      Item, this Lancaster County newspaper article from Lancaster Online:

      By BRETT HAMBRIGHT
      Published Sep 08, 2013 05:45

      Millersville University students, in a recent survey, estimated that a whopping 93 percent of their college peers smoke marijuana.

      An on-campus drug-abuse counselor, however, believes the real number is closer to the national statistics, which indicate that one-quarter of students use pot.

      Counselor John Baltzer does believe the students’ “false consensus” signifies a growing acceptance here of marijuana use that stretches beyond college campuses.

      “In my time, (society) wouldn’t serve, hire or respect ‘long-haired, dope-smoking hippies,’ ” Baltzer said. “Now, weed use is accepted in a great deal of our society.

      “Attitudes about pot and its use have changed a great deal over the last five years or so.”

      And locals can expect the pendulum to swing even further in that direction, Baltzer predicted.

      “Even in a state like Pennsylvania,” he said.

      Feds pull back on enforcement

      A recent memo from the U.S. Department of Justice is being called, by pot advocates, a major victory. In the memo, the DOJ outlines a limited pullback on federal enforcement of marijuana laws, saying it will not interfere with new state laws in Colorado and Washington that permit recreational use.

      That could affect an estimated 23 other states that have reformed pot laws and several others that are considering doing so. Pennsylvania falls into the latter category, with a pair of current senate bills introduced in April by state Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat who represents parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties.

      Senate Bill 528, or the “Regulate Marijuana Act,” and Senate Bill 770, which would permit medicinal use, have yet to come up for votes.

      And the federal memo won’t automatically change that, as some pot advocates are expecting. Local lawmakers and law-enforcement officials certainly aren’t convinced.

      “I am not aware of — nor would I support — any serious efforts to overturn Pennsylvania’s drug laws,” state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a West Lampeter Republican, said Wednesday.

      Culture change in motion

      Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher and Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman agree with Smucker.

      “In my opinion, it would require a change of culture in the entire state,” Madenspacher said.

      There is a movement among local residents who want a discussion of marijuana laws. A pair of rallies this summer in downtown Lancaster advocating legalization were well-attended.

      Local defense attorney Richard B. MacDonald spoke at the rallies and also addressed a pro-pot event in Philadelphia on May 18. He sees the federal memo as a “green light” for states to loosen marijuana laws.

      “Their position removes the only legitimate impediment to proceeding,” said MacDonald, a defense lawyer here since 1980. “If our representatives give this Senate Bill (528) fair consideration, there is no way they can justify maintaining prohibition with all its costs — financially, and otherwise.”

      Lucrative market

      There also is a lucrative market here should the drug ever become legal and taxable, judging from the current illegal trade in marijuana.

      More than a third of the county’s Drug Task Force search-warrant operations this year were for pot, Stedman said. In just four of those operations, more than $340,000 in cash was seized from local homes.

      Just last month, detectives said they found 10 pounds of pot and $54,000 inside Sean Hencmann’s Lancaster Township home.

      The biggest bust came in February, when police said they found $1 million worth of marijuana and more than $200,000 at Richard Seery’s East Hempfield home and storage units.

      High-level dealing aside, MacDonald said he believes simple possession of pot should not be a crime. He said pot smokers are typically nonviolent individuals.

      Alcohol, on the other hand, is a catalyst to violence, MacDonald said.

      “After 33 years of practicing law, I can tell you that people drink alcohol and then commit crimes,” he said. “They do not commit crimes after smoking pot. Unlike synthetic and other dangerous drugs, cannabis won’t kill you or cause you to behave badly.”

      Dealers, not users, targeted

      Though marijuana is illegal, Madenspacher, a former district attorney, said it’s rare for those caught with drugs for personal use to be sent to prison.

      Madenspacher said, “It’s almost impossible to go to prison (here) for possession of drugs.”

      Madenspacher explained that first and even subsequent pot possession charges usually result in probation.

      “The police aren’t out looking for these people; they’re out looking for the dealers,” he said. “Despite what’s in the public’s minds, the prison is not overpopulated by drug users.”

      Madenspacher also said that during a recent review of Lancaster County’s criminal cases, he found more than half were drug and/or alcohol-related charges.

      Stedman, in 2011, implemented a sentencing program that allows first-time or low-level drug and/or alcohol offenders to have charges expunged from their records. As of last week, 540 offenders had applied for the program and half had already completed it.

      “I believe in giving people second chances, when appropriate,” Stedman said.

      Medicinal value

      Advocates also point to marijuana’s medicinal value, which has been validated by some medical professionals.

      In a recent report broadcast on CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed his previous position against marijuana. Saying he “didn’t look hard enough” before, Gupta illustrated pot’s medicinal values in the TV documentary.

      Perhaps the neurosurgeon’s most important finding was the treatment of 5-year-old Charlotte Figi, an epileptic who now medicates with marijuana. The drug has trimmed her seizures from hundreds per month to one or two, Gupta reported.

      Medicinal marijuana is legal in 20 states and Washington D.C., according to published reports. Pennsylvania and three other states have pending legislation regarding its medicinal use.

      Gateway drug

      Baltzer, the Millersville counselor, has heard all the lines spouted by pot-smokers:

      “You can’t overdose on it.”

      “It increases creativity and alleviates stress.”

      “It has medicinal value.”

      All fair points, Baltzer said. But he said there is no sugar-coating the drug’s addictiveness.

      It’s the No. 2 substance of choice of addicts entering rehab, trailing only alcohol, according to Baltzer’s data.

      “Recreational marijuana use possesses no more of a problem than alcohol,” he said. “Somewhere around twisting up three times a week, measurable dynamics begin to change.”

      “Physiologically, it’s no more difficult to kick than caffeine,” he added, “but for long-term users who have changed the “reward-system” part of the brain, it is a bugger.”

      Judge David Ashworth, founder of Lancaster County’s state-accredited Drug Court, said marijuana is the primary drug of choice for only three current participants.

      However, Ashworth reported, weed was the gateway drug for nearly all of them.

      “Virtually all of the participants who use street drugs — as opposed to prescription drug abusers — began their drug abuse using marijuana,” Ashworth said.

      Additionally, Ashworth pointed out, the marijuana available on the streets today is “dramatically” more potent than in years past.

      Not your father’s pot

      Stedman said that’s the “biggest change” he’s seen here in the marijuana trade.

      “It is all much higher-grade stuff and more powerful stuff coming from Mexico, California, Arizona and Canada,” he said. “It comes here by mail or delivery service, and is also driven here by suppliers.”

      Pipe dreams?

      While pot advocates are taking a “seize the day” attitude, Pennsylvania lawmakers will have final say on reform.

      In a recent newspaper survey, area representatives and political pundits projected it’s a long way off.

      Gov. Tom Corbett has said publicly he will veto any legalization bill.

      “This is a conservative state,” Madenspacher said. “If you look at where it has been legalized, it’s liberal states.”

      State Rep. Bryan Cutler said he’s extensively researched the topic, including the drug’s health benefits, and sees two major obstacles:

      Currently, Cutler explained, banks are required to report what they believe to be drug money deposits. The federal memo did not waive that policy, meaning pot profits will essentially remain off the books.

      “It’s going to be years before that first part’s even resolved,” said Cutler, a Peach Bottom Republican.

      Also, the memo doesn’t address tax deductions for pot proprietors.

      If someone invests $60,000 in the industry and takes in $100,000 in sales, that entire lump sum is taxable. “The $60,000 isn’t tax-deductible” under federal law, Cutler explained, because selling pot is considered illegal activity.

      “It’s still a cash business,” he said. “The field hasn’t even been cleared yet to have the debate.”

      While lawmakers say, “Not anytime soon,” advocates maintain that it’s “a matter of time.”

      Baltzer doesn’t support legalization, but he views the federal memo as paramount. Whether it’s next year or next decade, he said, decriminalization here could be “inevitable.”

      “The tide has turned,” he said, “and we need to figure out how to best move forward with education, regulation and monitoring.”

      End Quote of Article

      If you want to read the comments, here’s the link.

      http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/891938_Will-Pennsylvania-legalize-marijuana–Advocates-say-it-s-a-matter-of-time.html

    31. Bob Gellatly says:

      The only thing that can get things done is money and votes. Most of us have voting rights, some have money. If ya have some money to spare – contribute to Normal or a like organization and/or email this message to your elected officials and stand firm. Also send to like minded friends and family:

      I can no longer support elected officials or organizations that support current prohibition laws. I have decided not to vote for any politician that does not publicly support the removal of all penalties for the private possession and endorse responsible use of marijuana by adults, including cultivation for personal use, and casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts.
      20 million arrested is 20 million reasons why.
      The problem is the law – not the plant.

    32. mexweed says:

      @ Oracle– Maybe “Pot Proprietors” is not the answer? Think about this. Instead of paying all that tax and licensing money to sell actual herb,

      (1) Set up a business manufacturing the long-stemmed one-hitters which will take the place of joints and big-bowl hot-burning pipes among inhalant cannabis users and take the place of $igarettes among inhalant tobacco users worldwide within less than a decade.

      (2) Make and/or market 18″, 1/16″, 1/32″ #Mesh screen sifters (sieves) for handgrinding the herb down to a uniform particle size which vaporizes well in one-hitters (25-mg per serving), and make cup-shaped 1/40″ #Mesh crater screens (which protect against drawing particles down into the inner channel). (Google the wikiHow.com article, “Make 1/4″-diam. Screens for a Single-Toke Utensil”.)

      (3) Note, the Holder memorandum deprioritizes prosecuting SMALL-QUANTITY users, so why not SMALL-QUANTITY growers? To EVERYONE who buys a one-hitter at your One-Hit Head Shop, just GIVE AWAY some seeds for small-quantity growing privately in their neighborhood, with leaflets showing how to plant dozens of seeds but then gradually harvest down (using cuttings for tea and salads) to just the two (2) best maturing females.

    33. Alan Schmee says:

      You #MrHanger are one wise politician.

      If you are true to your words and my congress representative for the comonwealth of Pennsylvania, #JudySchwenk, is for these words of truth above, I believe we as voters in her district will feel the same.

      The opportunity for growth in all aspects of ‘living life’ exist in the production and cultivation of hemp as a raw material for any scientific/Eco-Positive/medical/’spiritual’ practice.

      The state should aid in keeping hemp farming in mind when it comes to agricultural grants and research funding, not only does this plant produce product, but also many bi-products…

      People follow the lead of others… Set a positive forward thinking tax law and regulation and the people will follow the law. The guilt is far less when others are satisfied with your actions…

      Please respond, anyone… I’d love to learn more than I know already, which isn’t much.

      -The Positive Thinking Taxpayer

    34. Snowbrdr1220 says:

      I live in PA and plan on voting in the democratic primary for the first time in my life. John Hanger has my vote, and I’ll do my best to spread the word to my friends and encourage them to register democratic and do the same.

    35. Bill says:

      He got my vote, so in May 2014 primary do we then have to wait for reforms to take effect in another 8 months? if he wins the primary the reform can go into effect next November 2014? May to November is 7 and some weeks.

    36. Tngstubbs says:

      I have never voted in a primary, however, I will also be voting for John Hanger this coming May. Hopefully he lives up to his word! so many don’t!

    37. Demonhype says:

      @Douglas “It would be nice if pot heads vote. But they dont. So I am afraid he wont win.”

      58% of all Americans across the country support the legalization of marijuana. Are you suggesting that 58% of Americans are potheads, or that 42% of Americans are non-users? Obama didn’t get elected with solely non-white votes, it took a significant amount of white votes to get that to happen. And marijuana isn’t going to be legalized solely by the votes of marijuana users, it will take a significant amount of non-user votes to make that happen, which we have now–including mine.

      And as others have explained above, the idea that marijuana users are lazy stupid slackers who could never be roused to do anything as proactive as voting, even for something that would help them and improve their lives and futures. Marijuana users include doctors, lawyers, and a variety of other intelligent, motivated and passionate individuals who will most definitely not only vote but actively promote the right choice and raise awareness about the facts whenever possible.

      The lazy unmotivated slacker stoner is a piece of propaganda utilized throughout the War on Drugs to demonize users and neutralize all the very valid arguments in favor of legalization. It’s like the Drug War’s version of the Welfare Queen myth.

    38. PotOrNot says:

      NORML you should really stress to your readers that they need to register as democratic party 6 months before the primary election (by May) to be able to vote for the November 2014 election. I’ve been eligible to vote for 9 years and this will be the first of any election that I’m participating in just because of John Hanger, marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol and can add a substantial tax increase that will benefit all PA citizens…I have a hard time seeing the negatives…no deaths no hospital prolonged stays no organ failures and it’s not chemically engineered. See ya later Corbett

    39. Sue says:

      I think it is a joke! Marijuana is still a drug no matter how it is smoked. However if they actually can extract the THC out of it like they say they will for medical purposes, then yes allow only terminally ill people to use it.

    40. Rick says:

      we are talking about the safest drug known to man and has been used for thousands of years for multiple ailments it is safer than aspirin and much safer than alcohol. as far as I know in 40 years I’ve never heard of anyone overdosing on marijuana.It is not addictive and it never was the window drug that the criminal element claimed tobacco is. By criminal element I am referring to the business owners and paid off politicians that made it illegal after prohibition because if it was legal it would have hurt their business.lamp oil,paper production, cotton, and later Duponts contract for rope for the us navy ect… My life has just been ruined because I was using Marijuana for my glaucoma, ADHD and arthritic pain problems my opinion if you claim you want to help people make distilled spirits illegal people overdose and die from that daily. Making pot illegal in the first place was an illegal act.

    41. Rick says:

      I will become a Democrat for this election. I believe in common sense over corporate greed. and government lies and stupidity.

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