A joint public hearing on the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in Pennsylvania was held Tuesday at Pennsylvania Hospital, one of Penn Medicine’s medical facilities.
The first of three hearings related to the use of medical marijuana, the session focused on the potential medical implications of legalizing medical marijuana, as well as the science behind the use of marijuana in treating various maladies.
Chairman of the House Health Committee Matt Baker and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Ron Marsico spearheaded the meeting, with Baker presiding over the discussion.
While Baker was unable to attend the hearing due to the death of his father-in-law, he has spoken out against legalizing cannabis as a medical treatment in Pennsylvania, citing the lack of objective clinical evidence behind it.
While the hearing was not held to specifically discuss Senate Bill 3 — which, if passed into law, would legalize medical marijuana use in Pennsylvania — there was significant backlash against the bill by some of the speakers, such as Charles Cutler, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, who said that “this looks more like the development of the infrastructure for legalization of full blown recreational use.”
Marsico was quick to shut down speech about Senate Bill 3. “This is a not about a specific bill," he said. "We’re not here about Senate Bill 3, we’re here to learn more information.”
Those speaking at the hearing remained divided on the perceived benefits of cannabis and cannabinoid compounds as potential medical treatments or as medicines.
Representatives from the Pennsylvania Neurological Society cautioned against “putting the medicine out on the basis of anecdotal research,” saying that not enough clinical research had been conducted on marijuana and its use as a drug.
“Our position is neither pro or con. It is a position of 'let's learn more.' We simply need more medical research done,” Cutler said, adding that because marijuana is classified as a Class 1 drug, “you need special permission from the FDA. It’s very cumbersome to get that permission.”
Representative Joseph Petrarca, Minority Chair, encouraged action, comparing talk of studying marijuana to President Reagan saying we should study acid rain: "We have to act. We have to act on certain things," he said. "Do you deny the successes we’re seeing in other states, or in Israel? Because those are compelling reasons to move ahead.”
However, David J. Casarett, Director of Hospice and Palliative Care for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, argued that data has been collected. “Medical marijuana has more medical evidence to support it than I ever imagined,” he said. “It’s actually not true by how many randomized controlled trials there are. California has invested a fair amount, and that research has produced not overwhelming data, but good enough to use”
Even Casarett urged caution, encouraging the group to "treat the data with skepticism.”
Still, the harshest critics were unable to find any criticism harsher than marijuana being possibly addictive.
“No one has ever died from medical marijuana,” Dr. Lee Harris admitted.
The next two hearings will be held in April and will focus on law enforcement, regulatory concerns and other states' experiences with implementing medical marijuana.
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