Editorial: PA still has room to grow with medicinal marijuana


It’s impossible to get a majority of people to support anything it seems — except marijuana.

Franklin & Marshall College recently found that 56 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters think the state should make recreational marijuana legal, mirroring a nationwide trend of increased support for the drug.

Pennsylvania seemed to be trying its best to keep up with the trend when it passed a state law legalizing the growth, distribution and consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The law grants the southwestern region of Pennsylvania five permits for dispensaries and two permits for growing/processing facilities.

Marijuana is approved for patients in Pennsylvania that qualify under a list of conditions — such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer — and is consistently proven to be effective for the conditions listed and beyond.

Here in Allegheny County, two companies and an individual have submitted applications — two for medical marijuana dispensaries, and one for a growing/processing facility. But the two dispensary applications were submitted for locations in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, neighborhoods known to be some of Pittsburgh’s most affluent.

For medical marijuana to be effective in Pennsylvania, the dispensary facilities must not be concentrated only in affluent areas.The state has a vested interest in its residents’ health, and should use its power to ensure that medical marijuana is available for all residents of Pennsylvania, not just those concentrated in its wealthiest areas.

The state has tried to make accommodations for this problem of access, however. Each medical marijuana patient can list up to two “caregivers” — individuals that are permitted to obtain medical marijuana on behalf of the patient.

But this doesn’t completely solve the access problem. Caregivers will still need to travel prohibitively far distances to fill their patient’s prescriptions, particularly if they live in rural areas or in the suburbs of a metropolis where the use of public transportation is inconvenient.

Keystone Relief Centers, the company that applied for the dispensary permit in Squirrel Hill, is planning on opening satellite facilities in Butler and Washington counties. Under state law, each dispensary can also open two satellite facilities — but the two satellite facilities must be in different counties. This prohibition on multiple satellite facilities being in the same county will spread out the dispensaries into rural areas of the state, but doesn’t solve the potential accessibility for lower income residents in a metropolitan area such as Pittsburgh.

Many neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area — like New Kensington or Bethel Park — are prohibitively far away from the proposed dispensaries, especially for low-income residents without a car.

Medical marijuana is no longer a wildly progressive issue — the next step for the state is to champion recreational marijuana, as Pennsylvania Solicitor General Eugene DePasquale is trying to do. He proposed legalizing recreational marijuana as a way to pay off some of the state’s budget deficit.

But proposals for recreational marijuana won’t move far unless Governor Wolf takes a look at the polls and realizes that he’s wrong when saying that the state isn’t ready for recreational marijuana. If he wants to truly tackle the budget’s deficit and keep up with the rest of the northeast region, he should lead the way and bring Pennsylvania to the forefront of what is now the hot button progressive issue of recreational marijuana.

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