PA Senate: New medical marijuana bill misses the point

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PA Senate: New medical marijuana bill misses the point

By Courtney Linder / For The Pitt News

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An amended bill legalizing several forms of medical marijuana passed 43-7 in the Pennsylvania State Senate last week. 

Don’t celebrate yet, though. As it turns out, the legislation is severely lacking.

The new bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48) and Sen. Daylin Leach (D-149), requires a patient to secure doctor’s authorization for use of marijuana. This authorization must also include proof of one of the 12 existing medical conditions appropriated by the legislation, and it only allows medical marijuana use in specific forms: delivered through extracted oils, edible products and ointments. However, the bill doesn’t tolerate inhalation of medical marijuana in any form, like smoking or vaporizing.

Unbeknownst to the senators, there are several issues with these precise guidelines provided in the new version of the bill. 

The original bill included about 40 different ailments that were deemed appropriate for treatment with medicinal marijuana. However, this list was narrowed to only 12 conditions in the amended version of the bill, including post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis but excluding Crohn’s disease and glaucoma.

At what point, though, did legislators become more knowledgeable in medical treatments than doctors? Those affected by the conditions that have been removed from the bill are left to wonder how these pseudo-physicians came to the decision to overrule their treatment. 

It is absurd for legislators to remove these conditions, considering the documented medical success of marijuana with many of the stricken conditions on the initial bill.

The use of marijuana in glaucoma patients, for example, allows the intraocular pressure of the eye to decrease 15 to 45 percent. Up to 80 percent of patients achieved this effect through smoking marijuana in an ice-cooled water pipe. This means that marijuana can preserve the retina, and thus, people’s vision. So why, exactly, are we still keeping such an effective treatment from glaucoma patients?

It is unfair for the state to decide who gets treatment but also for the state chooses how treatment is given. 

The rationale behind removing the use of a vaporizer to inhale medical marijuana is severely unsubstantiated. Sen. Folmer said that there was a “fear that [vaporization] was a sneaky way to smoke [marijuana].” 

This is an ignorant excuse and one that fails to recognize the benefits of vaporization over other forms of marijuana consumption. 

Vaporization isn’t the same as smoking. In fact, vaporization presents a number of positive effects. When the gases from vaporization enter a patient’s lungs, they contain about 95 percent cannabinoids, the psychoactive ingredients that create the therapeutic properties of cannabis.

Granted, the actual smoking of marijuana introduces harmful elements —  some of which may have existed on the flower — into the lungs, and can cause cancer or respiratory disorders. Up to 88 percent of combusted smoke gases don’t contain cannabinoid elements, which creates another health risk.

Eliminating the ability to vaporize medicinal marijuana is ridiculous not only because it is so effective in delivering THC, but because it is quick in doing so. Inhalation is the fastest way to achieve an effect with marijuana, taking only about four to five seconds to feel the onset and peaking within 10 to 20 minutes. Other methods of administration, such as edible products, can take up to 40 minutes to digest and become active.

Edible consumption is problematic because it is not simple to control dosage. Take Colorado, where one of the greatest issues with the legalization of marijuana has been that people inadvertently ingest far too much marijuana when taken orally. 

For instance, in March 2014, a Colorado college student ingested six times the recommended dose of a marijuana-infused cookie and jumped to his death from a Denver hotel. Colorado has taken measures against over consumption of edible marijuana treats, but has had little to no issue with vaporization. How, then, is vaporization any “sneakier” than eating?

Legislators need to add amendments to this bill to allow more conditions to be treated with marijuana since that is the original agenda. Patients suffering from glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, HIV, AIDS, muscular dystrophy and the like should all have the opportunity to receive the treatment necessary.

While the passage of this bill is a step in the right direction for medical marijuana use, the work is not over.  How can a bill such as this even pass when cannabis is described as a Schedule I drug?  This means that marijuana has a “high potential for abuse with no currently accepted medical purposes.” Pennsylvania needs to recognize that marijuana does not belong in this drug category, and it seems like an oxymoron to have a Schedule I medicine.

Luckily, the bill has some wiggle room. There is space for expansion that would create a marijuana oversight board to authorize new conditions. But, this board needs to recognize the legitimate benefits of vaporization and the need for all relevant patients to get treated, beyond the 12 conditions listed.  

Pennsylvania cannot remain stubborn forever. Reform in the medical marijuana industry is approaching.

Write to Courtney at cnl13@pitt.edu

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