All posts tagged: marijuana reform

An Open Letter to the President: Is Medical Marijuana About to Get Trumped?

The US Stance on Medical Marijuana is Confusing at BestDear Mr. President,

As of the time of this writing, I have been unable to verify the validity of today’s ‘news’ that the DEA is adding CBDs (the medicinal extract of marijuana) to the Schedule 1 list.

No major news reporting agencies have made any mention of it at this time, and although many independent and alternative news websites are reporting the story, it’s unclear if this is accurate news or simply an internet hoax run amok.

What is clear is the Trump administration is not shaping up to be friendly towards legalization efforts.

You have the power to end this madness, Mr. President, and with all due respect, your legacy will not be tarnished in the least. In fact, I would posit that such a bold step forward in the name of compassion and common sense will in fact reflect most favorably on you for generations to come.

Marijuana has real medicinal value. There is no denying that medical professionals in ever increasing numbers, and over half the States, have, in multiple ways, made the call: Marijuana is medicine.

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve had an uphill fight that has resulted in 17 “Qualifying Conditions” for the medically proven application of CBDs in treatment– including the treatment of seizures, which are very often associated with children.

Forgive me, Mr. President, for playing this card, but yes: It really is about the children this time.

The thing is, I know in my heart you are a thoughtful, intelligent human being. And again, with all due respect, we know you toked a few doobies back in the day. It’s cool with most of us. The vocal minority of the present will be drowned out in the ocean of time. Justice will prevail.

My employment of the words, “minority” and “justice” are quite intentional, Mr. President, as I have spent my entire professional career in the criminal justice system, working both sides of the aisle, and I can tell you this with certainty:

Prosecutions for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania can be devastating for an otherwise law abiding, tax paying citizen. It can literally ruin their life. And worst of all, it falls disproportionately on the poor and minorities– those who can least afford it.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, “Light up!”

Now there’s talk of making the medically approved, medicinally effective extract of this most harmless of intoxicants, the equivalent of Heroin in the eyes of the law???

Constitutionally speaking, this is truly madness.

I am currently challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s Schedule 1 ruling in a case in the Court of Allegheny County. This is no “Lawyer stunt” Mr. President.

This is a case of someone resorting to making their own effective medicine for their own health benefits. This is medically documented and would be a “Qualifying Condition”, if the State of Pennsylvania moved faster.

And this is but one of thousands of otherwise ordinary citizens who face prosecution for doing something they could do in a majority of the United States, legally. If that’s not a violation of “equal protection under the law”, I don’t know what is.

The Schedule 1 status of marijuana is the roadblock in all this. The DEA has too much motivated self-interest to judiciously wield this kind of constitutional authority, and is, in effect, circumventing the States, the Constitution and the will of the people.

The experiment with legalization in Colorado has proven wildly successful, with literally none of the predicted negatives put forth by it’s opponents.

Mr. President, the time is now.

Add actual healing to your legacy. Add the compassion that I believe is in you to your legacy. Stand up for the truth and lead us down a path of justice for those who need medicine and compassion, not vilification and jail.

Please! Remove Marijuana from the Schedule 1 list.

Most respectfully yours,

Patrick K. Nightingale, Esq.

 

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Patrick NightingaleAn Open Letter to the President: Is Medical Marijuana About to Get Trumped?
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Medicinal Marijuana: A Status Update

marijuana law reformThe initial excitement expressed over the passage of Pennsylvania’s medicinal marijuana legislation has led to some fallacies regarding how the law works.

It has also opened the doors to various scams, intended to capitalize on that initial excitement.

Let me be absolutely clear on this first point: Marijuana is still illegal in Pennsylvania. Until Act 16 is fully implemented merely having a qualifying medical condition under the new law won’t prevent anyone from being arrested and prosecuted for possessing marijuana.

Which brings up my next point. Smoking marijuana is not covered under the new medicinal law, which applies only to medically approved delivery methods such as oils, topical, salves and pill form.  The Department of Health MAY add dry herb as a permissible “medical marijuana product” in 2018, but smoking will remain prohibited as a delivery method.

It is medicine, and is being treated under the law with the same medical and pharmaceutical oversight as any medicine introduced to the marketplace.

Doctors are being trained and certified to recommend medicinal marijuana under very strict guidelines, none of which relate to recreational use.

Only a physician who has been trained and is certified to practice medicine in Pennsylvania will be allowed to make a recommendation.  Prior to considering a medical marijuana recommendation, however, the physician must complete a 4 hour training course and must register with the Department of Health.  A physician recommending medical cannabis may not have a financial interest in a licensed medical cannabis facility such as a grow or a dispensary.

Growing marijuana is still illegal. Claiming a grow operation is for medicinal use is not a defense. Medicinal growers will have to be licensed and regulated by the commonwealth. The process of obtaining a growers license is very strict and very costly.  The application process alone may cost the license winner millions before a single seed is planted.

Finally, a physician MUST have a bona fide physician patient relationship with the patient.

In order to get a recommendation, patients must have a physician patient relationship with their recommending treatment provider.  Because the Department of Health has not yet certified the training requirements for physicians no PA physician can yet make a medical cannabis recommendation to their adult patient.   Any “physician” who offers to do so at present– especially for a fee– is breaking the law.

For more information on medicinal marijuana, we suggest contacting a legitimate organization such as the Pennsylvania Medicinal Cannabis Society with questions regarding prescribing and producing medicinal marijuana.
Visit http://www.pamcs.org for more information.
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Patrick NightingaleMedicinal Marijuana: A Status Update
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Gateway Drug: Myth or Fact?

MarijuanaIt’s a question that keeps coming up in the legalization debate: Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

Myth? Fact? Or just maybe, a little of both.

A better question, and the one that seems to get lost in most of the studies regarding marijuana use is; Why do people use drugs at all?

There is a tendency in anti-marijuana circles to answer this age old question using modern constructs, thus ignoring a simple biological truth. Drugs make a person feel good. Drugs cause the brain to release larger amounts of dopamine, the chemical that makes us feel good.

If dopamine release is the benchmark, then we can conclude almost anything we ingest for pleasure is a “Gateway Drug”.

Chocolate, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana and yes, harder drugs like cocaine, meth and heroin all cause the brain to create increased amounts of dopamine.

Consider this, from the governments own website, www.drugabuse.gov:

These findings are consistent with the idea of marijuana as a “gateway drug.” However, the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances. Also, cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs50 and are, like marijuana, also typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances.

So, can we conclude that using marijuana, tobacco or alcohol will ultimately lead to heroin addiction? Hardly. If marijuana was truly a “Gateway Drug”, then why is it, by the government’s own admission, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use harder drugs.”

If marijuana is truly a Gateway Drug, then why are there so many drug dealers who smoke pot and are selling heroin and cocaine, but are not using heroin or cocaine themselves? It’s not like they can’t get any. Are we suggesting that greed overrides addiction? Or could it be, the reasons for drug use are far more complex than the simplicity of the “Gateway Drug” explanation?

Again, from drugabuse.gov:

It is important to note that other factors besides biological mechanisms, such as a person’s social environment, are also critical in a person’s risk for drug use. An alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis is that people who are more vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances like marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with other substance users increases their chances of trying other drugs. Further research is needed to explore this question.

In other words, social status, economic status and good old fashioned peer pressure can just as easily be behind drug use.

It’s a truth about youth that boundaries must be tested, social norms questioned, and the age old human need of being bad to feel good comes into play. Young people experiment. It’s just a fact of life.

Sometimes science goes too far and the idea that people make choices becomes subjugated to the notion that because of biology, we cannot control ourselves, and those choices are made for us. Nonsense.

Every study I’ve read through has had to admit that, the “Gateway Drug” explanation is in itself far too simple to fully explain how and why people end up using hard drugs like heroin.

The Rand Corporation is a highly respected think tank that has performed research on everything from drug abuse to nuclear war.

They compiled their own research as well as that of other institutions, finding that although on the surface, it could appear so, there is actually no definitive study that justifies claiming marijuana is a “Gateway Drug”:

This evidence would appear to make a strong case for a gateway effect. However, another explanation has been suggested: Those who use drugs may have an underlying propensity to do so that is not specific to any one drug. There is some support for such a “common-factor” model in studies of genetic, familial, and environmental factors influencing drug use. The presence of a common propensity could explain why people who use one drug are so much more likely to use another than are people who do not use the first drug. It has also been suggested that marijuana use precedes hard-drug use simply because opportunities to use marijuana come earlier in life than opportunities to use hard drugs. The DPRC analysis offers the first quantitative evidence that these observations can, without resort to a gateway effect, explain the strong observed associations between marijuana and hard-drug initiation.

Simply stated, there are many people who have a propensity for drug use, and where they start is not a simple, “one drug leads to another” explanation for drug abuse.

One factor that continually seems to be missed in all this is the legal status of marijuana. It’s classification as a Schedule 1 Narcotic makes selling marijuana profitable, and someone willing to sell drugs is not going to be too particular about which drugs they sell to make money.

By keeping marijuana illegal, and lumping it together with truly harmful drugs like heroin, we drive users to interact with illicit drug dealers, who are more often than not interested in making money. Period. “Hey, if you like weed, you’ll love this.”

That isn’t going to happen at a legal dispensary.

And don’t get me started on the dangers of prescription drugs like Oxycontin, which is basically synthetic heroin. Far too many people get hooked on hard drugs when their prescription runs out. When a physician refuses to refill a prescription for Oxycontin, $7 – $10 stamp bags of heroin are far more affordable than $30 – $50 Oxys. 

Changing the legal status of marijuana in states like Colorado has proven to actually reduce the use of hard drugs like heroin, because people are no longer forced to interact with criminals who may not have their best interests at heart in order to obtain marijuana.

So, enough with the “Gateway Drug” argument. There is absolutely no empirical evidence proving marijuana use leads to hard drug use, any more than eating chocolate, smoking cigarettes or drinking beer does. In fact, according to the government, the vast majority of marijuana users do not use hard drugs at all.

That hardly sounds like a “Gateway Drug” to me.

Related links:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana/marijuana-gateway-drug

http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB6010.html

 

 

 

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Patrick NightingaleGateway Drug: Myth or Fact?
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Martavis Bryant: Chronic Pain or Just Chronic?

The US Stance on Medical Marijuana is Confusing at BestWhen it was announced last week that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant was being suspended for a whole season following a failed drug test, the assumption was he had marijuana in his system. In truth, he missed not one, but two scheduled drug tests, which defaults to a failed test.

This is not the first time Bryant has run afoul of the NFL’s “Zero Tolerance” policy for drug abuse. He was previously suspended for four games under similar circumstances. Remember kids; a missed appointment for a drug test = a failed test. It works that way for anyone on probation, parole, etc. By missing not one, but two tests, Bryant opened the door to much speculation about why he was suspended, yet the truth is, we don’t actually know if he was using any drugs at all.  He was never tested.

Steelers President Art Rooney II, in what appears to be an appeal to compassion, has called for getting Bryant, “…the help he needs…” for the drugs we don’t actually know he was taking. Okay…

But what if that help includes medicinal marijuana?

Bryant, who, admittedly, is still a very young man, is employed in a professional sport that regularly includes violent physical collisions, resulting in long term physical debilitation, multiple concussions and the attendant problems, both physical and emotional, that accompany the normal physical stress and wear that is a natural result of a career in the NFL.

The media has been rife with stories of NFL players, many of them Hall of Famers, who are now dealing with the severity of the physical trauma they experienced while ‘playing a game’. But the NFL is no game to them. It is an intensely physical contest between players of gladiatorial strength and it punishes players long after they hang up their cleats.

As public acceptance of the validity of medicinal marijuana continues to grow, and the political realities of legalization begin to creep into the mainstream conscious, many businesses are having to face some decisions regarding where their contractual obligations for their employees are beginning to clash with the law.

If an NFL player in Colorado wants to use legal marijuana, on their own time, for personal recreational purposes, does the League still have the right to say they can’t?

After all, many professions require clean drug tests to get and keep a job– Airline Pilots, Truck Drivers, Police Officers, Firemen, jobs within the security sector. What makes an NFL player any different?

There are still many unanswered questions surrounding legal marijuana. There is currently no reliable test to determine impairment in the way a blood test can determine blood alcohol levels, yet that hasn’t stopped municipalities from charging motorists with DUI for marijuana, based mostly on possession and the observations of the arresting officer.

Not exactly a scientific approach.

But what happens to an NFL player if his doctor prescribes marijuana as a treatment option? Does the NFL have the right to deny their employees legal medicine?

Players are routinely prescribed medications that could easily be abused or result in an arrest. There are plenty of people in court who were charged with DUI for their prescriptions. Something like Oxycontin is a very powerful drug that can and does impair the senses of those taking it. People taking it probably shouldn’t be driving, but that’s a separate issue.

If a player’s doctor prescribed Oxycontin, then the NFL has to accept that one or more of their players is in a position to abuse their medication, but they do not have the right to tell them they can’t take it. They can only act if that player abuses that medication, resulting in an arrest or an accident. The NFL is not a medical board. They do not have the right to independently determine what constitutes medicine and what doesn’t. They cannot and should not be allowed to override the determinations of a licensed physician, regardless of their personal or professional stance on the issue.

Some states with legal medicinal marijuana have built in protections for patients who are prescribed marijuana, to ensure they are treated fairly by both law enforcement and in their workplaces.  Pennsylvania’s law would provide employees protection from employer discrimination for using medicinal cannabis. A person who has a prescription for marijuana cannot be fired for using marijuana in a state where it’s legal, unless they are actively abusing it on the job. It’s generally a bad idea to show up for work stoned or drunk, so I think there’s some common sense in all this to protect the employee, the employer and the general public welfare. It makes sense that a Train Engineer should be sober when operating the train. We get that.

There’s no doubt there is still some legal grey areas involving medicinal marijuana where employment is concerned, especially in companies that operate in all 50 states. An NFL player from Denver who is traded to a team located in a state where marijuana is still 100% illegal, for example. Where do their rights to fair treatment come in to play? That player has a legal prescription, yet is still subject to arrest for using that medication outside the state in which he resided when prescribed the medication.

The question then becomes, does the NFL, or any employer, have the right to tell their employees which medications their physician can or cannot prescribe them, regardless of the State in which the prescription is written?

Maybe Bryant just wants to burn one with his friends, but the odds, and the statistics, suggest it’s equally possibly this young man is already experiencing the effects of the physical trauma associated with a career in the NFL.

The NFL needs to take a fresh look at an outdated policy that denies players any medically valid treatment options, or medicine, to repair or at least alleviate the chronic debilitating physical conditions brought on as a direct result of their employment conditions.

Medicinal marijuana is becoming legal in Pennsylvania soon. Maybe it’s time for Mr. Rooney to take the lead on this in the League, if he truly cares about the players and wants them to get the help they need, as he says.

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Patrick NightingaleMartavis Bryant: Chronic Pain or Just Chronic?
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Making Sense of Politics

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

When one hears the word, “Politics”, it is natural to think of the political process itself, but politics is a much wider arena than merely a way to get elected to office.

In this election year, we’re being inundated with politics. The politics of the left, of the right, of the corporations, of the special interests… of the people. It’s no accident I list ‘the people’ last.

When I’m standing in the Capitol at Harrisburg, having a sense of deja vous all over again, to quote Yogi Berra, it’s pretty easy to see why the people are frustrated with the entire political process.

This week I did just that, and I must admit, I felt pretty damned frustrated.

Once again, I found myself speaking at the state capitol, on behalf of the people who need medicine.

Medicine.

Not a buzz, not a way to enhance their listening pleasure when they put on, “Dark Side of the Moon”.

Medicine.

How heartless the system must seem to those who feel they no longer have a voice. How cold and unforgiving and uncaring that system appears to people, including those of us who are an integral part of that system. Now, imagine the depth of that feeling when that system would deny medicine to people who need it, and being one of those people, or the relative of those who need that medicine.

Imagine being severely injured, in need of pain killers, and being denied that medicine because of politics, simply because that medicine flies in the face of a political narrative, that has very little to do with helping people.

Heroin has become a scourge once again. Young people are using it at an alarming rate. It’s a very real problem, featuring a drug that truly destroys lives. Yet no politicians are saying Morphine, or any of it’s derivatives, should be discontinued because it also gets you really high.

Heroin comes from morphine, and by the logic of politicians, morphine should be illegal –AS MEDICINE.

It’s the exact same argument politicians are using to deny people medicinal marijuana. People get high on marijuana, so it can’t be medicine.

You can bet those arguments would evaporate for those same politicians if they or their loved ones were denied pain killers to ease their suffering.

Morphine is pretty potent stuff before it becomes heroin. It can be smoked or eaten or distilled into a drinkable form. Sound familiar? Yet, that’s where the similarities with marijuana end.

Morphine, and all it’s derivatives, are highly addictive, and is often at the heart of addiction problems that become worse once someone can no longer get it- or it’s derivatives- as a prescription. Those people often turn to drugs like heroin once they are cut off from their prescription, but at that point, it’s no longer medicine. It’s feeding an addiction.

By contrast, even in it’s purest form, THC is non-addictive and non-toxic. It does not result in catastrophic consequences for those who use it as a recreational drug, let alone as a means of easing suffering. Unless of course, they get arrested for possessing or selling it. That can be quite catastrophic.

Unlike morphine, marijuana is not just a pain killer– it can also be a cure. Scientific studies overwhelmingly agree that medicinal marijuana has potential to be an effective cure for many conditions. It is often the legal status that prevents even more research from being done.

And still, here we are, standing in the state capitol, once again pleading with a few politicians to stop denying people medicine. Not doctors. Not scientists. Politicians.

As I read through my Facebook feed, and see the level of rancor in any attempt to discuss political solutions to very real problems, I have to SMH and do a double face palm. Polls show an overwhelming 84% of Americans support medicinal marijuana. Why would any politician attempt to fight numbers like that? Eighty four percent.

This is only politics for those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Why they would want to ignore so clear a mandate from the people they represent to maintain that status? That is the real question we should be asking.

Who do these politicians really represent?

 

 

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Patrick NightingaleMaking Sense of Politics
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Theresa Nightingale Receives Tokey Award

theresa-budtokinwoman.blogspot.com: “Celebrating famous female cannabis connoisseurs throughout herstory to the present day.”
They have just announced the 2015 “Tokey Awards” recipients and Theresa Nightingale was one of five women honored for “Activist of the Year” for her work bringing decriminalization to the city of Pittsburgh.
Theresa, who is also a founding member of the Pittsburgh NORML Womens Alliance, took some time out of her busy day to answer a couple questions about her work as an activist in the state of Pennsylvania.
How did you first get involved in the legalization movement?
Theresa:  I started by showing up to a Pittsburgh NORML meeting in January 2012. I knew that NORML was the oldest cannabis reform organization in existence and I wanted to be a part of it.

What has been the most challenging part for you, personally?

Theresa:  By far it has been the constant danger of having my child taken away from me due to the fact that I am so outspoken. I am lucky to live in the city of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, which is by far more liberal than the suburbs.

What lessons have you taken away from your experience?

Theresa:  That almost everything negative that you have ever heard about politicians is spot on, and then some. I’ve also learned that many of my peers don’t vote, and that is incredibly sad and frustrating. However, we as an organization are working to change that. We have voter registration information on our website and at many of our events.

http://www.pittsburghnorml.org/register-to-vote/

You were Miss High Times in March 2015– how did that come about?

Theresa:  I found out about the contest via a copy of HIGH TIMES magazine I had. I thought it would be fun to try to win a month. I then took some pictures of myself and uploaded them to the Miss High Times website, I was voted into the top 10, and after that I was invited to a few Cannabis Cups. The staff got to know me and eventually I received a month in the magazine due to my activism and other assets. It’s been a wonderful opportunity and experience.

What challenges does the legalization movement in PA face in the coming year?

Theresa:  Our Republican dominated House continues to stall any and all medical marijuana legislation. House leader Mike Turzai is our biggest opposition at the moment. We encourage everyone to give him a call and let him know how you feel about him stalling medical cannabis in Pennsylvania. His number is (412) 369-2230.

What is most rewarding thing about your activism for you?

Theresa:  As a mother I really enjoy helping other parents and their children. I have been able to see first hand how medical marijuana works for some of these children with seizure disorders. The idea that these parents are considered criminals in my state is sickening. We will not stop until every single patient in PA has safe and affordable access to this medicine.

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Patrick NightingaleTheresa Nightingale Receives Tokey Award
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NFL to Pittsburgh NORML: Cease and Desist.

MarijuanaThe hypocycloid itself is a symbol that cannot be trademarked.

What is a hypocycloid, you may ask? It’s the star-like symbol incorporated in the logo used by the Pittsburgh Steelers- three hypocycloids with the word “Steelers” in a white circle.

In our quest to find a logo for Pittsburgh NORML, we chose a similar design which replaces the hypocycloids with marijuana leaves.

norml-logoThe NFL recently caught wind of our design and sent us a classic cease and desist order.

Now, I will concede that the NFL has an economic interest in protecting its “brand”. Their objection is premised on the belief that it’s consumers would confuse our two marks. In other words, the NFL believes our use of the hypocycloid will cause National Football League consumers to believe that we were affiliated with the league. How stupid do they think NFL fans are?

It would be nice if we were actually affiliated with a sport where chronic pain is commonplace and many of it’s own employees use marijuana to alleviate that pain. Some of them even use it for recreation.

Last year, we saw a Steelers running back get arrested for using marijuana. Le’Veon Bell was caught driving (with another player) and was high at the time. He got a DUI and faced disciplinary action from the league. Bell is still on the team, and just this past Monday had a stellar game running the ball against the San Diego Chargers. I guess it’s safe to say the wacky weed doesn’t have much of a negative impact on his performance.

Seriously, though, as far as making a fight against the League for our logo goes, we’re throwing in the proverbial terrible towel, but I want to use it as a teaching moment. In my response, I offer the following statement:

“We honestly believed that our use of the hypocycloid was a “fair use” and therefore permissible under intellectual property law. However, we have no interest in going toe to toe with the Almighty National Football League. We hope, however that the league will listen to it’s own players, who are demanding access to a non-toxic and wholly natural pain management alternative. We still considered our logo a fair use, falling under the parody clause. Certainly no one would confuse marijuana leaves as being the true logo of the Steelers. However, we are a small, local non profit – not a multi-billion dollar non profit like the NFL. We would rather work on legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania than battle the all powerful NFL in court over a parody image.”

To be fair, the league would do the same thing if we were operating a hot dog cart, so their position is not about marijuana use.

Our logo position is not untenable, but we are choosing to focus our efforts and limited resources on what we feel is the important issue at stake here, and we’re making progress. In fact, the league has moved (slowly to be sure) towards our stance at NORML: Marijuana is medicine. This article in The Atlantic talks about the league taking a somewhat more enlightened approach to the issue.

Players like former Pitt star and Dallas Cowboys lineman Mark Stepnoski, who sits on NORML’s board of directors, and Marvin Washington, who spent 11 seasons in the NFL and now represents players as a financial adviser, agree that marijuana is medicine, and they are lobbying the league to take a more realistic, compassionate and enlightened approach to the issue.

Read about Marvin Washington here.

Why are these players coming forward in increasing numbers? Consider the case of NY Giants player Tyler Sash, from a story in Bleacher Report, whose use of opiate like drugs like methadone and hydrocodone to treat his chronic pain led to his untimely death at age 27.

We applaud these and other brave players who have publicly supported Marijuana as medicine, and encourage other players to ‘come out of the closet’ regarding marijuana use in the league.

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Patrick NightingaleNFL to Pittsburgh NORML: Cease and Desist.
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Obama: The Great Commuter?

speedy trial PAThere has been much talk on the internet this week about President Obama commuting the sentences of 46 individuals convicted of federal drug crimes.

The recipients are all considered non-violent drug offenders who are low risk in terms of releasing them back into the community, and include the mother of an NFL player convicted of drug dealing.

In that case, she had already served the bulk of her sentence, and had only one year left to serve, but it makes for good headlines.

It is also important to point out she had been offered a plea deal which would have been a four year sentence. Instead, she chose to go against the advice of her attorney to take the plea, and then went before a jury who convicted her, where she received a much longer sentence as a result. Moral of story: It is probably a good idea to listen to your counsel, as that is why you pay them.

In a larger sense, although I applaud the President for his actions, in reality, those 46 names constitute a small fraction of the over 35,000 cases president Obama’s legal team reviewed when considering who the lucky winners would be in this amnesty lottery.

The President was quoted as saying, “In these cases, the punishment did not fit the crime.”

Mr. President, with all due respect, one could easily say that about the majority of drug related crime convictions, especially in convictions involving marijuana.

Too often, whether due to circumstances such as the presence of weapons, or mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, or the “three strikes” rules currently in place, a judge and jury have their hands tied when meting out justice.

Take a marijuana grow operation, for example. The mere presence of weapons, whether or not they are legally obtained or even used in the commission of a crime, become the catalyst for much harsher sentencing guidelines. In other words, a gun that is perfectly legal to own for home defense becomes a weight around the neck of the defendant, even when it has no actual bearing on the charges themselves.

For the person who grows some pot in their barn, or their basement, that otherwise legally registered weapon makes it appear they are a hardened criminal bent on murder, when the actual facts of the case are nothing of the sort. In fact, marijuana users and growers rarely act violently at all, but because of strict federal guidelines, the weapon cannot be ignored and is actually treated as criminal, even though it was never used to commit a crime. Even something as innocuous as a hunting rifle– one actually used for just hunting– suddenly makes the defendant look like a modern day Al Capone, at least on paper.

Maybe the unlucky fellow has a couple of minor convictions from their past. Since these occurred before the current climate of decriminalization and legalization, on paper they appear to indicate a hardened criminal past on par with Scarface. To the average jury, this can often be subtlety inferred in such a way that it almost becomes prejudicial in the perception of the jurors. No one wants a gun toting three time loser drug dealer cruising the streets of their neighborhood.

Forty six commutations, although certainly a step in the right direction, are not even a drop in the bucket when compared with over 35,000 people currently languishing in federal prisons. It’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

Couple this with the fact that marijuana is actually legal now in 5 states, and you can see we have a real problem in terms of “punishment fitting the crime”. A state border should not be an automatic indictment, especially in a federal case. It is hardly equal treatment under the law and strikes me as being terribly inconsistent with regard to constitutional protections that should apply equally to all citizens of these United States.

Because I have been at the forefront of the marijuana legalization movement, I am particularly aware of the blatantly unfair implications of marijuana remaining on the Federal Schedule 1 Narcotics list. President Obama has repeatedly indicated he agrees with this assessment. He has publicly toyed with the notion that it’s time to remove Marijuana from Schedule 1, yet seems reluctant to follow through.

If he really feels ‘the punishment should fit the crime’, it is time for him to act. President Nixon was largely responsible for the Schedule 1 designation. President Obama can reverse the perversion of an otherwise benign plant as being on par with heroin and cocaine. He can truly make a difference in countless lives, and go down in history as the rarest of presidents by putting aside politics in the name of justice for all.

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Patrick NightingaleObama: The Great Commuter?
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Medical Marijuana: A Brand New Battle in Pennsylvania

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Who is Matthew Baker and more importantly, who does he think he is?

If I had to guess, he’s a power hungry politician who represents a very small percentage of Pennsylvanians. He seems more intent on being a pseudo scientist and medical professional than in being a legislator.

One cannot argue the republican representative is very popular in Tioga County (population a bit over 46,000) where he garners enough support to potentially remain in office for a very long time.

He claims to have all this scientific data and research, yet has failed to produce even one study during the debate on Senate Bill 3, the Medical Cannabis Act.

He utterly ignores the fact that 23 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana already, and all without attendant horror stories of death and mayhem.

Even more amazing, he ignores the fact that the United States government itself actually provides medical marijuana for a small number of patients. That’s right, Uncle Sam is dealing the Devil’s Lettuce in the form of tin cans of perfectly rolled joints.

This is the same government that keeps marijuana listed on the Schedule 1 narcotics list, though we are starting to see a change of attitudes on that among politicians and law enforcement professionals.

And still Mr. Baker, who chairs the House Health Committee, refuses to focus on what is happening in the world around, before his very eyes. He instead chooses to focus on the fear of “what if?”, and perhaps the fear of losing his office.

Or maybe, just maybe, he fears losing a rather large portion of his donors, which for some reason include a large number of pharmaceutical firms. This would not be odd if these companies had offices or manufacturing facilities located in Tioga county, but they don’t. Why would they even donate to a campaign whose outcome has no actual effect on their business?

He certainly has no difficulty ignoring the fact that several of his contributors are facing penalties and fines for selling drugs for uses which are unapproved by the FDA:

“It is amazing when you consider the strong opposition of the expert medical and scientific community that appeared to be ignored (and) the only drugs that should be allowed in the Commonwealth are those that are authorized through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval process. —  Rep. Matthew Baker

How can one explain his unwillingness to produce these reports of strong opposition and why pharmaceutical companies would be concerned about the election outcomes in a very small county in Pennsylvania?

Oh, wait. He chairs that committee. Let’s give him money.

Actually, I am reminded of the scene from Blazing Saddles, when Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) says, “But, where could we find such a man? And why am I talking to you?” “You” being, WE, the people.

Do you have any idea how tired I and others are of reminding Mr. Baker that 88% of the people in Pennsylvania approve of medical marijuana legalization?  Apparently, a large part of that other 12 percent live in Tioga County, which must be populated by folks who would rather let children die than see their beloved representative lose his corporate donor base.

Why is it even legal for a corporation with no address in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, to donate in what is, by definition, a local election?  I find it hard to believe they do it because they call it home… in their hearts, anyway.

How would you feel if, say, 10 doctors agreed on a potentially life saving medicine for you, or heaven forbid, your child, but a single politician, backed by money from a bunch of companies with no viable alternative to offer (I know, they’re working on it, so just suffer till they work it out), is able to tell your doctors, “No, let your patient die.”

Does any of this make sense to you?

It makes sense to Matthew Baker. He seemingly has no problem (or compassion) saying ‘no’ when a weeping mother stands before him, telling a true story of how this medicine can save her child. He’d rather protect imaginary children than real, living breathing children.

Or maybe it’s even simpler than that. Maybe he’d rather have the money.

Scott Gacek at The Daily Chronic has written an excellent piece detailing the campaign contributors Mr. Baker actually represents. He has quoted myself and others in the fight to legalize marijuana about Matt Baker and about new strategies we need to explore.

Frankly, having participated in this ongoing debate for years, including testifying in Harrisburg, I am starting to wonder if Mr. Baker is delusional and in need of some medication from his supporters.

Or at the very least, the man seems to be in need of an enema, and fortunately, he won’t need a prescription for that.

2 comments
Patrick NightingaleMedical Marijuana: A Brand New Battle in Pennsylvania
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Dear “Frustrated Friend”. Improved medicinal bill may pass after all.

sentencing guidelinesDear FF,

I apologize for my delayed response, but I have been involved in a homicide case, so it’s been difficult to find the time.

Ironically, the delay has actually been helpful as I have some good news for you.

The original senate bill was, as you say, gutted. Many medical conditions were removed, and believe me, we in the legalization movement understand your frustration.

The good news is, many of those conditions that were removed, including Chronic pain, Crohn’s Disease and  diabetes, have been added back in medical Cannabis Act– Senate Bill 3– along with AIDS and HIV.

Delivery methods were also expanded. Vaporization has been included for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures and cancer. Nurse Practitioners will also be able to make recommendations for medical cannabis, under a physician’s supervision.

You’re correct about pharmaceutical companies, but that’s really nothing new. The people who need this medicine cannot wait, and I believe the politicians now realize this.

As for our Governor, don’t be confused. This isn’t something he can do on his own. He must wait for the State House and Senate to act, but he has consistently said he would sign the bill if passed. It looks like he may get his chance very soon.

Tell your friends that although full legalization is still in the future, it has become increasingly likely that Senate Bill 3 will pass this year, and Pennsylvanians will finally have the medicine they so desperately need.

And don’t be mad at the Republicans, as it is Republican State Senator Mike Folmer, Lebanon County, who introduced the bill.

Let’s hope he can convince the rest of his party of the need to put politics aside, and pass this humane legislation.

I wish I could write more, but I really must get back to this case.

Your support is greatly appreciated and be of good cheer. This Wednesday is the Senate vote, where SB3 passed once already, and the House will not be able to table the bill at the end of the current session, as they did last year. They’re most likely going to have to vote, and the results look promising.

 

 

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Patrick NightingaleDear “Frustrated Friend”. Improved medicinal bill may pass after all.
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