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DON’T RUSH DECISION ON RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

Published April 05. 2019 11:33AM

As Lt. Gov. John Fetterman takes his “statewide listening tour” on the subject of legalizing recreational marijuana through Blair, Indiana and six other counties in the coming weeks, we urge our leaders in Harrisburg to avoid acting in haste on such an important issue.

There are far too many people making sound arguments against legalized recreational cannabis for Pennsylvania to rush recklessly into a legislative decision.

A couple of months ago, the momentum seemed to be fully with legalization. But the winds of public sentiment have been shifting of late.

Locally, leaders with the Cambria County Drug Task Force say legalizing pot for everyday use would run contrary to that organization’s mission of reducing the use of drugs that can lead to addictive behaviors and the use of more harmful narcotics, such as heroin.

The state Fraternal Order of Police recently went public with its opposition to legalization, with President Les Neri calling marijuana “a dangerous drug that poses a real threat to public safety and public health and strongly opposes any efforts of legalization at the state or local level,” as our John Finnerty reported from Harrisburg.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry has not taken a position on the issue, but reported that its members believe the state is moving too fast toward legalization of the drug for recreational purposes — having just approved marijuana for medicinal purposes last year.

We agree, and urge Fetterman, Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly to tap the brakes and await more data on how the issue is playing out elsewhere.

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, California, Michigan, Vermont and six other states as well as the District of Columbia.

In February, a bill that would ease restrictions on adult use of marijuana was introduced in the Pennsylvania House, Finnerty reported, while state Sens. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware County, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia County, say they plan a similar measure soon in the Senate.

Fetterman has made numerous stops in his statewide tour, which he says is simply to “gather input” on the possibility of moving forward with legalized recreational pot.

He found a favorable audience in Cambria County and met opposition in Somerset County.

“I would peg this room at 50-50 in terms of pro or con,” Fetterman said March 7 at North Star High School in Boswell. “Every other county, of the 14 or 15 other stops we’ve done, has been unambiguously pro by varying degrees.”

Fetterman said the Somerset County response “represents the lowest level of support” for legalization he had seen to that point.

Pennsylvania is one of 33 states that have approved the use of medical marijuana for treating conditions such as epilepsy.

Even that step has caused problems for employers, schools, courtrooms and prisons — who must make decisions about how to handle the use of a narcotic that is legal per the state but illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

Cambria County has seen people on prescription marijuana fail drug tests that represent violations of probation or other restrictive situations.

Cambria requires that those with medical marijuana cards also show approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Health Office of Medical Marijuana including forms completed by their physicians.

People on probation are required to notify their probation officers and then go before the court for approval if they have been prescribed medical marijuana treatment.

President Judge Norman Krumenacker III said: “We’re trying to make sure we’re doing the best we can given the confusion in the law.”

A medical marijuana production facility — Hanging Gardens LLC — is being developed in Johnstown and two distribution sites have been approved in the city.

However, Krumenacker points out, “Technically, marijuana — even in its medical form — is still a violation of the federal law.”

Employers face similar uncertainties, especially those who hire people for federally mandated drug-free locations and positions. Generally, people may not be denied employment or terminated because of legal medical use, but can be denied certain opportunities — such as commercial truck driving — that are off limits for those who have positive drug tests, due to safety concerns.

Krumenacker called for federal legislation to help sort out the problems states are facing.

The issues linked to medical cannabis provide yet another argument for a deliberate process for considering recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.

There’s no need to rush this decision.

We urge our state lawmakers to join Fetterman in seeking constituent feedback while educating themselves on the potential benefits and problems associated with legalizing recreational marijuana.

Only then can we make an informed and appropriate decision.

— The Tribune-Democrat

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.

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