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Doctors’ group says ‘No’ to medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

Drugs DocBy Brad Broker

Last November, two Pennsylvania state senators crossed the aisle to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.  Senators Mike Folmer (R) and Daylin Leach (D) co-sponsored “The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.”

“Although we come from different perspectives, we both agree on the importance of helping those with medical challenges – especially children with seizure disorders who would benefit from a medicinal strain of cannabis,” the Senators wrote in a joint statement.

The Pennsylvania Senate Law and Justice Committee today heard testimony from the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which stated its opposition to the proposal. “Until further research clearly demonstrates its safe and effective use in patient care, beyond any reasonable doubt, we urge caution and do not recommend marijuana for medical use in Pennsylvania,” said Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

California in 1996 became the first state to legalize medical marijuana.  Since then, 19 other states have joined the party.  Two states — Colorado and Washington — have legalized marijuana for recreational use.  And just this week, the Florida state Supreme Court approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative for the November election.

In Pennsylvania, there may be more of a battle to the passage of pot as Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has already said he would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.

And given today’s testimony by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which has stated its preference for continued study on the matter, the odds are even greater.  “We in no way discount the very important experience of those whose lives have been reportedly improved by the use of medical marijuana or its derivates,” said Fraser. “Instead, we want to focus the discussion on building a better body evidence that allows physicians and other providers to make science-based decisions about the use of marijuana in the treatment of their patients.”

Earlier in the day, the medical society hosted a teleconference that included supporters and opponents of the bill.  Dr. Lee Harris, a neurologist from Abington, PA, said doctors should be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to chronic pain patients who obtain no relief from existing medications, according to the Patriot-News.  Harris said the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the potential side effects.

Dr. Erik Rupard, an oncologist from Reading, PA, echoed the medical society’s view and cited a need for more research, saying available research is “generally scant and not very well done.”

The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, which last week announced its endorsement of the bill, is also scheduled to testify to the committee.  The hearings are ongoing.

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