Farnese backs bill to revive medical marijuana in PA

Cit­ing his fath­er's struggle with can­cer, the sen­at­or said the bill could provide re­lief for pa­tients and bring new rev­en­ue to the state.

State Sen­at­or Larry Farnese (D-1st dist.) was part of a group of state le­gis­lat­ors that in­tro­duced a bill last Tues­day in Har­ris­burg that would leg­al­ize med­ic­al marijuana use in Pennsylvania.

It’s a con­tro­ver­sial top­ic, but, dur­ing an in­ter­view held Thursday, April 28, Farnese said his sup­port of the bill comes from a per­son­al place.

His 68-year-old fath­er is a two-time can­cer sur­viv­or that, he said, could have be­nefited greatly if the bill had been in place in the past.

“This is just an­oth­er drug in the ar­sen­al to fight dis­ease,” said Farnese.

Farnese said his fath­er suffered through chemo­ther­apy treat­ments fight­ing two types of non-Hodgkin’s lymph­oma in the 1990s.

“He would get his chemo treat­ment and would be vomit­ing and not eat­ing for the next three days,” said Farnese. “I’ve al­ways be­lieved that this is something Pennsylvania should have.”

The bill, Sen­ate Bill 1003, also called the “Gov­ernor Ray­mond Shafer Com­pas­sion­ate Use Med­ic­al Marijuana Act” would al­low those pre­scribed the drug to pos­sess six marijuana plants or an ounce of the drug. The bill was in­tro­duced by state Sen­at­or Daylin Leach (D-17th dist.) and state Sen­at­ors James Ferlo (D-38th dist.) and Wayne Fontana (D-42nd dist.) joined Farnese in spon­sor­ing the bill.

Farnese said marijuana has been found to help ease pain in cases of chron­ic dis­ease as well as help re­store ap­pet­ite.

Ill­nesses lis­ted in the bill that could be treated by the pre­scrip­tion drug — which would be ob­tained at li­censed “com­pas­sion cen­ters” throughout the state — would range from can­cer treat­ment to glauc­oma, eas­ing pain for HIV pos­it­ive pa­tients and oth­er crip­pling dis­eases.

Also, Farnese noted, there is no lan­guage in the bill that would re­duce pun­ish­ment for or per­mit the use of the drug re­cre­ation­ally.

“This is highly con­tro­ver­sial … But, it’s ef­fect­ive for the re­lief of pain,” he said. “There’s no lan­guage to al­low re­cre­ation­al use or to lessen the pun­ish­ment for re­cre­ation­al marijuana use.”

He did sug­gest, however, that he per­son­ally viewed re­cre­ation­al marijuana use as a lower pri­or­ity crime, as com­pared to vi­ol­ent crimes, when asked about the Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams’ re­cent re­duc­tion in crim­in­al charges on marijuana pos­ses­sion.

“Marijuana is il­leg­al,” he said. “But, you have to bal­ance out re­sources.”

There is no timetable for when the bill might be put up for a vote in Har­ris­burg, which Farnese said can be frus­trat­ing be­cause of­ten con­tro­ver­sial bills such as this are “left to die in com­mit­tee” and nev­er make it out to the floor for a vote.

“It’s in­furi­at­ing … Every bill should have the op­por­tun­ity to be de­bated on the floor,” he said. “This is an is­sue that’s con­tro­ver­sial and maybe some people will snick­er. But, we as le­gis­lat­ors have to do what our con­stitu­ents want.”

Also, he said, there is a sig­ni­fic­ant eco­nom­ic be­ne­fit ele­ment — money would be made through li­cens­ing the “com­pas­sion cen­ters” — which could help fill budget gaps in state fund­ing.

“We have the op­por­tun­ity to close gaps in­stead of cut­ting edu­ca­tion,” said Farnese. “Hope­fully, Gov­ernor (Tom) Corbett will see the be­ne­fit of this as Gov­ernor (Chris) Christie has in New Jer­sey.”

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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