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  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive 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.)

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director August 8, 2013

    CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has reversed his previous opposition to marijuana law reform and delivered a full throated defense of cannabis’ medical applications in an editorial published this week on CNN.

    In his own words:

    Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called “Weed.” The title “Weed” may sound cavalier, but the content is not.

    I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning.

    Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”

    Well, I am here to apologize.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Dr. Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, explains how he mistakenly bought into certain government propaganda surrounding cannabis, but through continued research and his experiences filming his upcoming documentary “Weed” (which airs on CNN on Sunday at 8pm ET and PT) completely changed his mind on the plant and its efficacy.

    I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

    They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.

    NORML applauds Dr. Gupta for openly apologizing for his role in how Americans have been “terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States” on the issue of marijuana and his recent advocacy in favor of marijuana law reforms, something we can only hope will continue. Sanjay appeared on Piers Morgan Live last night to promote his new documentary, this segment alone demands some attention for his ability to explain the medical applications of cannabis and the hypocrisy of our current laws in an intelligent and articulate manner.

    If current momentum sustains itself, Sanjay Gupta (who was named Forbes #8 Most Influential Celebrity in 2011) is just one more of what will become a long line of prominent and respected media and medical professionals who will speak up against our failed cannabis prohibition. His advocacy can have nothing but a net positive effect on the current dialogue going on in mainstream America surrounding marijuana and help continue to push public opinion in our favor.

    Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed” airs this Sunday on CNN at 8pm ET and PT

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director July 30, 2013

    Voters in the District of Columbia approved Initiative 59, to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, with 69% in favor in 1998. The effort was immediately put on hold after the US Congress passed the Barr Amendment, which prohibited Washington from using any of its funds for implementing its medical marijuana program. A decade later, in 2009, Congress finally overturned the amendment and the city could begin to implement the medical marijuana initiative in earnest. About four more years after that, the first sale of cannabis to a licensed medical patient occurred in the District of Columbia this week.

    On Monday evening, the first medical patient in the city was able to walking into Capital City Care, a dispensary located on North Capitol Street, and purchase their medicine.

    “After a couple of years of hard work, it’s exciting to open our doors and serve the patients our facility is really for,” Scott Morgan, communications director for Capital City Care, said to The Washington Post, “This is a moment we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time.”

    Capital City Care is the first of three dispensaries expected to be open and operational in the near future, but despite this landmark moment, there is still work to be done before the system is fully functional and serving the needs of Washington’s patients in a sufficient manner.

    Currently only 8 patients have received their approved medical marijuana cards and only about 20 doctors have received the required paperwork from the city to join the program.

    NORML will keep you updated as the program moves forward. You can read media coverage from The Washington Post about this event here. You can view Capital City Care’s website here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director June 3, 2013

    Legislation that allows for the therapeutic use of cannabis by qualified patients, Assembly Bill 6357, was approved today by members of the New York state Assembly in a 95-38 vote. The debate now moves to the Senate where members are expected to take up companion legislation, Senate Bill 4406, in the coming days.

    These measures would allow for the therapeutic use of cannabis by qualified patients who possess a recommendation from their physician. They are being supported by a bi-partisan coalition of more than 50 lawmakers.

    Under these measures, state-registered patients diagnosed with one of over a dozen serious medical conditions — including cancer, HIV, post-traumatic stress, arthritis, diabetes, or epilepsy — would be allowed to possess up to 2 and one-half ounces of cannabis. The measure also allows for the establishment of licensed not-for-profit and for-profit facilities to produce and distribute cannabis to qualified patients. Non-registered patients would be able to present an affirmative defense of medical necessity at trial.

    New York voters strongly support allowing patients to have access to marijuana therapy. According to a 2013 Sienna Research Institute poll, 82 percent of New Yorkers — including 81 percent of Democrats and Republicans — endorse the use of marijuana when authorized by a physician. This is an increase in support of 21 percent since pollsters last asked the question in 2012.

    Despite this widespread public support, Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) has stated his opposition to the measure. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated he opposed the measure, but was keeping an “open mind” on the issue.

    If you live in New York, it is imperative that your elected officials hear from you. Please take a minute and click here to quickly and easily contact your State Senator, Senate Co-Leader Skelos, and Governor Cuomo and tell them to stand with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers by supporting this important legislation.

    NORML will continue to update you in the coming weeks as this proposal moves forward. You can track the progress of marijuana law reform legislation in other states via NORML’s ‘Take Action’ page here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director May 20, 2013

    Marijuana law reform is gaining some serious momentum in New York as we approach the end of this year’s legislative session.

    Recent polling data released by Siena Research Institute revealed that 82% of New Yorkers support the medical use of marijuana. Fortunately for New York lawmakers, they can take action to address this issue that’s supported by an overwhelming majority of their constituents. Medical marijuana legislation is currently pending in both Houses of the New York Legislature and these measures have been gaining substantial political support. This legislation is expected to be debated by elected officials in the coming weeks. If you live in New York, click here to quickly and easily contact your state politicians and urge them to support this important legislation.

    In addition to medical marijuana, it seems that full legalization will also soon be debated. State Senator Liz Krueger announced her intentions to introduce legislation that would legalize the recreational use and limited cultivation of marijuana. The measure would also allow for the commercial sale of marijuana at retail outlets regulated by the New York State Alcohol Authority.

    “It is my intention as a New York State senator to soon introduce a law that would actually decriminalize, regulate and tax marijuana in New York,” stated Sen. Krueger.

    NORML will update you when this legislation is introduced.

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