Testimony of the NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD-DRUG POLICY COMMITTEE. before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives- Health and Human Committee

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1 Testimony of the NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD-DRUG POLICY COMMITTEE before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives- Health and Human Committee Chairman State Representative Frank Oliver: The drug policy committee is a free standing group operating under the umbrella of the National Lawyers Guild, consisting of attorneys, legal workers, and law students. We are dedicated to advancing progressive ideas in the area of drug policy and the impact of drug policy on the criminal justice system. We are committed to changing the course of the war on drugs which has been a colossal failure and brought unnecessary hardship on poor communities and communities of color. We strongly endorse HB 1393 as a much needed step in the direction of sensible and compassionate legislation regarding drug policy. We recommend that this medical marijuana program be implemented to allow medical cannabis to be safely regulated, monitored, and controlled. Medical cannabis has been proven time and time again to be medically beneficial, and the decisions surrounding its use should be decided by the patient and histher doctor. In addition to enhancing public safety, the use of medical cannabis can create jobs, provide much needed new revenues, and reduce existing budgets for prisons and law enforcement.

2 In May of 2006 a Franklin and Marshall College poll found that 76 percent of Pennsylvanians support "allowing adults to legally use marijuana if a doctor recommended it." Pennsylvanians are in agreement with the rest of the nation according to polls from AARP and Gallup. Patients in Pennsylvania and other states without protection for medical marijuana patients face harsh criminal penalties and asset forfeiture. Patients also deserve protection from losing their livelihood. Often, they face drug tests and zero-tolerance policies. When possession of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or incarceration of up to one year, patients who are genuinely using medical marijuana with their doctor's recommendation deserve protection. They should not be arrested or penalized. Arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana patients is a waste of state resources. Law enforcement and court resources should be redirected toward harmful crimes instead of patients who are using medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. We endorse HB 1393 because it could add Pennsylvania to the list of states who are protecting patients and saving resources by treating their medical marijuana patients compassionately. By passing HB 1393, Pennsylvania would be the fourth state to regulate compassion centers/dispensaries. The National Lawvers Guild The National Lawyers Guild is an association dedicated to the need for basic change in the structure of our political and economic system. We seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers of America in an organization

3 that shall function as an effective political and social force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests. Our aim is to bring together all those who recognize the importance of safeparding and extending the rights of workers, women, farmers, people with disabilities and people of color, upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends; who seek actively to eliminate racism; who work to maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them; and who look upon the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than for their repression. Hb 1393 Will Provide Relief To Many Medical Conditions And Chronic Diseases In the states that have legal medical marijuana, doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana for many medical conditions and diseases including several chronic conditions. These include nausea, loss of appetite or wasting, chronic pain, anxiety, arthritis, cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, epilepsy, inflammation, migraines and Crohn's disease. The drug is also used to improve the quality of life of terminally ill persons. Just this month, the American Medical Association reversed its stance on medical marijuana, urging the federal government to review its status as a Schedule I controlled substance. Organizations that have endorsed medical access to marijuana include: the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Family Physicians; American Bar Association; American Public Health Association; American Society of Addiction Medicine; AIDS Action Council; British Medical Association; California Academy of

4 Family Physicians; California Legislative Council for Older Americans; California Medical Association; California Nurses Association; California Pharmacists Association; California Society of Addiction Medicine; California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church; Colorado Nurses Association; Consumer Reports Magazine; Kaiser Permanente; Lymphoma Foundation of America; Multiple Sclerosis California Action Network; National Association of Attorneys General; National Association of People with AIDS; National Nurses Society on Addictions; New Mexico Nurses Association; New York State Nurses Association; New England Journal of Medicine; and Virginia Nurses Association. HB 1393 Will Enhance Public Safety Public safety would be enhanced by the passage of HB Street violence is at an all time high due in large part to the war on drugs. Shoot outs between rival gangs fighting for their turfs have become everyday experiences in sections of the cities and towns. Innocent bystanders are often the victims of this widespread violence. Passage of this bill would be a major step in a new direction. The past several decades have seen the use of law enforcement and incarceration as the main tools against scourge of drug usage with little to no effect of overall drug abuse. Instead millions of dollars are wasted in apprehension and incarceration. The United States holds 25% of the total incarceration population but only comprises 5% of the overall world population. These numbers have dramatically increased since the beginning of the war on drugs. Last year the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections received a 10% increase in funding despite major cuts in many vital programs due to

5 difficult economic times. The DOC'S population also rose by 10%. Drug arrests are the single biggest factor in the historically unprecedented population explosion. 1 It is unlikely that teen marijuana use would increase as a result of HB In the states that legalized medical marijuana, teen marijuana use has declined more so than in states where all marijuana is still illegal, according to an analysis released in 2008 and coauthored by Dr. Mitch Earleywine, associate professor of psychology at the Albany campus of the State University of New York The current dilemma is similar to the prohibition against alcohol in that the black market controls distribution. As a result, violence is endemic and the government is losing significant tax revenues. HB 1393 Will Save Taxpayer Money Cost savings would come in two forms. This bill suggests a sales tax comparable to the current county sales tax which would generate millions of dollars based on the usage in the 14 other states that have medical marijuana. The second source of savings would be the reduced prison population and its many ancillary components including correctional officers; salaries, the basic necessities for the inmates, prison construction costs, law enforcement costs. It would also allow law enforcement to redirect resources to violent crimes. New York City recently embarked on a similar campaign to try treatment first for low level drug offenders. As a result they have reduced their prison population from 24,000 to 14,000 while the overall crime and homicide rates have dropped.2 ' "The War on Drugs is Lost" Ethan Nadelman, National Review Feb. 2, 1996

6 HB 1393 will create jobs for the unemployed. The creation of compassion centers would create jobs for administrative and health care workers. "City Budget Behind Bars: Increasing Prison Populations Drives Rapidly Escalating Costs", Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Agency, March 22, 2007 p. 17

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