Monday, August 10, 2009
Pot in Pennsylvannia
Why Not Medical Marijuana?
New Jersey is taking the lead. Will we follow?
By Brendan Skwire
Posted Aug. 9, 2009
Last week I bellied up in my local dive and bumped into "Barry," a
pothead and occasional dealer who lives in my neighborhood.
"Dude, can I just tell you what a moron I am?" he said, as he waved a
few bucks in the air trying to get the barmaid's attention. "Really.
Even when I try to do the right thing, it just gets all messed up."
"Oh Jesus. What happened this time?" I replied. You have to understand,
Barry's a piece of work: the guy can't help but step on his own feet.
"Oy." He leaned back in the stool, and almost toppled over. "Well.... I
was on what you might call a 'Mission of Mercy' yesterday. A good friend
of mine up in Germantown has some terrifying form of cancer. It's
horrible: he's lost a lot of weight from all the chemo, the radiation is
literally killing him from the inside out, you know how that stuff
affects people. So every once in awhile, he gives me a call to replenish
his weed. Usually an ounce."
The barmaid finally walked over and dropped off a couple of beers.
"And ya know, I don't make any profit when I hook him up," Barry went
on. "The guy's sick. It'd be wrong to make money off some dude that's in
dire straits like that." Funny how a pot dealer can grasp that, but the
CEOs at Cigna, Aetna, and the rest can't.
"So anyway, he gives me a call late last week. We've got it all worked
out so no one says anything on the phone. Long story short, I ended up
driving over to his place this Saturday. Now, I always put the weed in
that little storage compartment where I keep the spare tire, just in
case the cops pull me over. Which reminds me, you do know what to do in
that situation, right?"
"Spare me," I said. "You sent me that video like a dozen times!"
"Yeah, my short-term memory's a joke at this point. The point is, I get
to my guy's place, and guess what? There's a freakin' block party goin'
on. Kids, moms and dads, moonbounce in the street, the whole shebang.
And now I have to get this big ol' bag of weed out of the trunk and into
his house without anyone seeing it."
I could already see where this was going.
"So I go to the back of the car, and I start rooting around by the spare
tire like I'm looking for something. I must look sketchy as hell, but I
find the bag and shove it down the front of my pants. And that's when my
guy sees me. So I turn to walk over....
"And just as I pivot, I realize that not only has the little zip-lock
thing come open, but the bag is upside down, and I'm getting a crotchful
of kind buds. Seriously, I shake my leg, and nuggets fall out all over
the street. So now I'm frozen in place, deer-in-the- headlights, dude's
waiting for me, kids are nearby..."
I started laughing.
"Dude, it's not fuckin' funny!" Barry glared at me. "First of all, it's
not like I'm gonna charge the guy for weed he's not getting, so I'm
taking the hit. Second of all, if a cop showed up, what the hell am I
gonna do with weed all up in my balls, and buds all over the street?
It's not mine officer, it just um... um.... Riiiiiiight.
"Third, weed itches and the resin gets all sticky. The ride home? NOT
I put my head in my hand. "Barry," I said, stifling more laughter, "I'm
sorry, but you ARE a moron."
But it got me thinking.
Barry may be a bit of a clown, but he's doing a good thing. Although
there's some vestigial controversy, there is no doubt in my mind (or the
minds of thousands of others) that marijuana has real medical benefits.
It helps allay the nausea that accompanies chemo-therapy, the wasting
syndrome associated with AIDS, and other illnesses. It helps relieve
pressure in the eyes of people affected with glaucoma, and helps soothe
chronic pain. And these facts have been recognized by thirteen states ,
with New Jersey a strong candidate for number 14.
But here in Pennsylvania, my friend Barry the Pot-Dealing Samaritan is
risking his freedom
(http://norml. org/pdf_files/ state_penalties/ NORML_PA_ State_Penalties. pdf\
) to provide a sick person with the medicine he needs to fight cancer.
Prison time. Fines. A criminal record that would follow him for his
And that's the way it will continue to be if State Rep. Mark Cohen's
medical marijuana bill dies
(http://www.legis. state.pa. us/cfdocs/ billinfo/ billinfo. cfm?syear= 2009&si\
nd=0&body=H& type=B&BN= 1393). So I spoke to Leon Czikowski, a research
specialist for the Pennsylvania House who's working with Cohen on the
issue. He told me, "The bill is before the Health and Human Services
Committee, so right now it's beyond our control. However, medical
marijuana patients have met with Congressman Oliver, the chair. I can't
speak for Mr. Oliver, but I'm pretty sure he'll add it to his schedule.
"So I'm cautiously optimistic, even though there are about six
Republicans who are adamantly opposed to it."
After that, Czikowski says, it's a process of education. "Once the bill
gets out of committee, it has to go through the whole House, then the
Senate, and then onto the governor. So now you're talking about
educating 203 House members to get the 102 votes necessary to pass. You
need 26 Senate votes, and the governor's signature. It's like pushing a
large rock up a hill: it's hard but once you get to a certain point,
momentum really builds."
I asked Czikowski whether he thought medical marijuana in New Jersey,
the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act
(http://www.njleg. state.nj. us/bills/ BillView. asp?billnumber= S119), would
have any impact here in Pennsie. "From what I'm reading," I said, "it
almost seems like they'll have a parallel to our state store system for
liquor. Will we have Pennsylvania police staking out the weed
distributors the way they stake out Jersey liquor stores?"
Czikowski didn't think so. "I think the political impact will be
positive," he said, "because when our neighbors pass laws like this,
others follow. Legislators say 'Let's take a look at it.' In fact,
one of our arguments is 'This is what New Jersey does.' The patient's
doctor needs to recommend using marijuana, the health department
provides a special ID, which you can then take to a compassion center."
Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, and chief executive of the Coalition for Medical
Marijuana in New Jersey, expects the state to establish its medical
marijuana program by the end of this year. He set me straight on what
"It will depend on which bill reaches the governor," Wolski said. "Say
the Senate bill passes. This allows patients who want to use marijuana
to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior
Services, where they'll get (an) ID card permitting them to possess,
use, and cultivate marijuana. Under this bill, patient can grow up to
six plants, and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The Assembly bill
is much more restrictive: in their version, patients can't grow your
own, but have to go rely on nonprofit alternative treatment centers. On
the other hand, the Assembly's bill doesn't list limits for patients: it
a bit more like a business. Personally, I think Senate version is
better: the Assembly's responding to fears about the California model."
As for the regional impact, Wolski told me, "Since the New Jersey bill
has gotten movement, bills have been introduced in Pennsylvania and
"The real issue isn't Pennsylvania vs. New Jersey, but the feds, who
insist marijuana has no medical value, it's unsafe, and can't even be
used under a doctor's supervision. It's absurd: doctors prescribe
more dangerous, highly addictive drugs every day, and yet they can't
prescribe marijuana. So yes: it will affect the region, but most
importantly it affects the feds: if New Jersey passes this bill, that'll
make 14 states, with more than 25 percent of population, with medical
marijuana. The federal government will have to see reality. The best
impact passage will have is to increase pressure on the feds to revisit
the inappropriate way marijuana is scheduled."
I think it's clear that progress is steady but slow (and this is just
for medical marijuana: Pennsylvania' s going to have get as desperate as
California before they even consider legalizing and taxing pot for
recreational use and revenue enhancement) .
Which means that for the immediate future, my buddy Barry's going to
have to keep stuffing weed down his pants and hoping it doesn't fall
out. Either that or move to New Jersey at the end of the year.
Unrelated to medical marijuana, State Senate Majority Leader Dominic
Pillegi is holding our city hostage in a misguided effort to force Ed
Rendell to accept the Senate Republicans' insane budget. Sean Dorn,
writing at Young Philly Politics, published a must-read letter, that I
urge all everybody to read. (Here's a related petition.) Long story
short: Sen. Pileggi is refusing to consider Philadelphia' s temporary
one-cent sale tax hike -one stinkin' penny- until the state budget
passes, a process that could take months.
This may force Mayor Nutter to lay off 3,000 city workers, including 732
police officers and 200 fire fighters, and to close all its libraries
and recreation centers as well as the entire park system: Pileggi is
creating a public safety disaster for me, you, and everyone else who
lives in Philly.
But guess who's paying for the stadium in Chester? Me, you, and everyone
else who lives in Philly, every single time we pay a toll on the Ben
Franklin, the Betsy Ross, the Walt Whitman, and the Commodore Barry
Bridges: the first three serve Philadelphia, and get WAY more traffic
than the Barry. As Dorn writes, "So in essence Philly residents,
including 3,000 city workers potentially facing layoffs, are helping to
support [Pileggi's] new stadium every time they drive across the Walt
Whitman bridge to go to the Jersey Shore." Is that fair play on
I don't think so, and neither does Dorn: so sign the petition asking the
governor and the DRPA to "stop funding for Chester's soccer stadium as
long as Philly's city budget is held hostage."
http://www.philadel phiaweekly. com/news- and-opinion/ Will-Medical- Marijuan\
a-Come-To-Pennsylva nia-52839407. html