Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Marijuana Decriminalization Conversation: The Fair Thing To Do

Decriminalization of marijuana in Pa makes sense on many levels and should certainly be supported by medical marijuana (mmj) patients and advocates. Passage of Act 16, the Pa Medical Marijuana law, was a major step in the right direction but fell short in several ways. Disappointingly, not all patients who might benefit from mmj will qualify for the program – only those who have one or more of the 17 qualifying serious medical conditions. Of equal concern is that cannabis plant material, which is the least expensive form of mmj, was not included as a allowable form of medicine. And even though the Department of Health is working hard to establish the program, it will be at least 18 months until the first patient can walk into a dispensary to purchase their medicine. Additional changes in marijuana law, such as decriminalization, are needed to not only protect those who are seeking to treat themselves with cannabis, but also to lessen the costly financial and social impacts the existing outdated law has on our society.

The value of decriminalizing marijuana law can be seen right now within our state. If you are fortunate enough to be in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Harrisburg, you're afforded protections under local ordinances for possession of small amounts (under 30 grams). These three cities have taken a very pragmatic position to how they deal with possession and use of cannabis. They reduced the level of offense and fines, and more or less handle the infraction like a parking violation. These policies are saving law enforcement and the judicial systems time and money, they are no longer ruining lives based of the fabricated fears of a plant, and they are building genuine relationships between law enforcement and the community. This is how it should be across the state.

Efforts to support and establish decriminalization ordinances in other Pa cities is underway and could use your help. Keystone Cannabis Coalition, under the direction of Les Stark is strategizing to change minds and policies on marijuana enforcement in Reading, Lancaster, Allentown and York. If you can lend support to these efforts, please do so. Social reforms seem to be easier to nurture and enact in urban setting, where progressive thinking is often needed to solve a host of complex challenges. The reforms in urban settings offer a path to reform across this state. But that path alone will not be enough. We still need to educate and change the minds of our legislators and fellow citizens in small towns and rural areas of Pa and this time of year offers a unique opportunity to do so.

August is the start of “Fair Season”, and almost every county in the state has at least one within or near their borders. The fairs draw throngs of people from all walks of life to celebrate the harvest and accomplishments in agriculture in an entertaining atmosphere. This is also an opportunity for networking and messaging. Political parties understand this and usually have a booth set up to endorse their candidates. Many times you can find legislators or their staff manning the booth in an effort to promote their platform and ideals and garner support as we approach the general election in November.

The local fair is a great opportunity for you to talk to you elected officials, their staff, or party officials to express your concerns and offer ideas on how government should operate. Let them know how you feel about the medical marijuana law and how the unjust marijuana possession laws need to be relaxed. Thank them for unanimously passing the Industrial Hemp Act. Let them know that you support those who support common sense marijuana reforms. This is the perfect setting to let them know that for the first time, marijuana will be exhibited and judged at the Oregon state fair the end of this month. That is where Pa should be – sooner, rather than later.

Although additional state-wide legislative changes to marijuana laws are not expected to occur any more this year, we need to keep the conversation going in preparation for a big push in the new legislative session beginning in January.

So gather up the family, proudly wear your cannabis attire and hit the fairs. Educate and have fun at the same time.

P.S. And don't forget to thank the farmers. Their tireless efforts should never go unappreciated.

-Luke Shultz and the C4C Team

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