Politicians will take center stage at an open-mic forum in Harrisburg tonight, and the topic is marijuana reform.
It’s about time our political leaders started to press forward on this issue. Pennsylvania lags behind many states on medical use and decriminalization of the plant. It has become an utter embarrassment to the people of Pennsylvania that sick patients are left to suffer without legal access to marijuana.
Even the Justice Department is catching up with the rest of the country, saying they won’t interfere with states who attempt to decriminalize or legalize the drug. Any state willing to seek marijuana reform has been given a green light to do so. But Pennsylvania still has its foot on the brakes.
The marijuana forum will be held at 6 p.m. at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg. It's hosted by a group called Harrisburg Hope.
I spoke with John Hanger, a gubernatorial candidate who will attend the event, about how he plans to implement and regulate marijuana if he is elected.
Hanger has taken a gradualist approach on marijuana reform, what he calls his three step plan. To start, he believes medical use of marijuana is “a no brainer” and should be signed in to law immediately.
“I’ve met with people who are desperate because marijuana is their last medical option,” Hanger said. “Where we are at now is cruel and an attack on liberty.”
One woman Hanger spoke with was forced to move to New Jersey, where medical marijuana laws exist, to seek treatment for her young son who has a form of acute epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. Marijuana was the only treatment that worked for her son, Hanger said.
By 2015, Hanger wants possession of marijuana to be reduced to that of a minor traffic ticket, no jail time. “These laws are ruining people’s lives, impairing their opportunities to get jobs and be productive members of society. Every taxpayer should be concerned. It costs $350 million to enforce the marijuana laws. The cost is enormous.”
His reasoning is sound. It’s clear that marijuana prohibition has hurt individuals, torn apart families and we could prioritize that $350 million in to other parts of the budget.
By 2017, he wants the regulation and legalization of the plant to be implemented. This is where he loses me; it’s too soon. The political capital just isn’t there for legalization in four years.
Hanger hopes that his marijuana reform position will push him over the edge in a crowded Democrat primary, but he still lacks name recognition compared to those ahead of him in the polls.
He took a jab at his opponents, showing the weakness of their position.
“I am the only candidate for reform. I am leading on this issue. There are so many people who wait for the parade to form,” Hanger said. “No Democrat can afford to be on the wrong side of the marijuana issue. There are Democrat politicians right now talking out of both sides of their mouth.”
There has been no one more disappointing on the issue than Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, the Democrat favorite for governor. She has not spoken much about the issue. If you check her website there isn’t even a mention of medical marijuana. In fact, this seems to be her modus operandi for controversial issues; avoid them like the plague.
Take for instance, her "no" vote on the Amash amendment, to stop NSA spying on Americans. Schwartz was the only Democrat in the commonwealth to vote against the amendment and not a peep was heard.
As for the others who will speak at the forum, Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia and his opponent Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair County will give speeches. A local medical marijuana advocate, Ava Berg, was set to attend but passed on Aug. 30 from cancer. The forum is now dedicated to her memory.
Matthew M. Turner is a columnist for Metro Philadelphia. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.