New Castle News


November 27, 2013

Our Opinion: Nation fails to take clear stand on drug’s medical use

NEW CASTLE — To understand the shortcomings in putting state power ahead of federal authority, consider the matter of medical marijuana.

Slowly but surely, states have been liberalizing marijuana laws. Every year, more and more states authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But not the federal government, and not Pennsylvania. And there lies the rub.

Last week, the New Castle News carried an article from our Harrisburg bureau about a rally in the state capital on behalf of marijuana legalization. Among those interviewed were New Castle residents Amy and Jamie Houk.

But they will not be New Castle residents for long. That’s because the Houks plan to move to Colorado, so their 5-year-old son, who suffers from severe — yet unexplained — seizures, will be legally able to receive an extract of marijuana that his parents believe helps his condition.

Some medical experts argue there are a variety of medicinal benefits from marijuana that are not available via other means. Frankly, we don’t know if that’s true or not. But in the case of the Houks’ son, do existing rules in Pennsylvania help him in any way?

The Houks and others are moving because they can see the writing on the wall in Harrisburg. State officials plan to do absolutely nothing regarding any move toward the legalization of marijuana, including for medicinal purposes. Gov. Tom Corbett in particular is steadfastly opposed to such efforts, apparently believing the drug either has no medical benefit, or that any positives are outweighed by the negatives.

We should note here that skepticism about medical marijuana is legitimate. We seriously doubt most of the people lining up to receive it in other states are doing so because of some crucial medical need. We strongly suspect most of them are just drug users, not patients.

Unfortunately, this situation taints more serious efforts to put marijuana to medical use.

And that brings us to the federal government.

Technically, federal authorities could arrest anyone who uses marijuana — even if it is legal in a given state. But the Obama administration has opted to look the other way in such matters.

That may appease certain marijuana advocates, but it fails to take a coherent stance on the drug. And it allows Washington to duck responsibility in determining any appropriate use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

A federal rule recognizing potential limited medical value for marijuana wouldn’t solve every problem or end its abuse. But it would create a mechanism for legal marijuana prescriptions nationally, and encourage serious assessments of whether the drug has real benefits.

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