By Kate Malongowski email@example.com
Societal attitudes regarding marijuana -- both recreational and medicinal use -- have evolved over the decades.
Pennsylvania’s implementation of medical marijuana next year is perhaps evidence of societal view changes, but that didn’t occur right away.
The drug became very popular in the 1960s counterculture, which also lead to punitive drug reforms in the 1970s and 1980s.
Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society and a Pittsburgh-based criminal defense attorney, has been working to legalize medical marijuana in the state since 2009.
He recalled joining the efforts to legalize medical use eight years ago, when the first legislative bill was filed in Pennsylvania.
“I naively thought that this bill would simply sail right on through and we'd be marching off into the sunset with some type of medical cannabis bill,” Nightingale said.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, that initial bill and several others that were introduced sat in limbo. It was in 2015 that it began to get some traction because there had been anecdotes from families across the counties about the potential benefits. Full marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington have also helped, he said.
“When it was reintroduced, we really started to have a groundswell of momentum -- a groundswell of momentum from patients, from advocacy groups and from the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society of which I'm the executive director now,” Nightingale said. “The Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society was working with advocacy groups working with patients to get relevant information to our representatives ... so that they had accurate information about cannabis, a realistic understanding of its potential to treat a wide variety of disorders.”
The state law will allow medical marijuana as treatment for a variety of serious medical conditions, including autism, cancer, Crohn's disease, epilepsy, HIV and AIDS, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and some severe forms of chronic and intractable pain, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Marijuana and hashish are the most commonly used illicit drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, with more than 8 percent of Americans ages 12 and older saying they had used marijuana or hashish within the past month.
Those users also made up 22.2 million of 27 million who had used illicit drugs within the past month. However, those numbers did not differentiate between recreational and medicinal use.
Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law will have some regulations. It cannot be smoked in its final form, but it will be available in pill, oil, topical, tincture and liquid forms.
In states with “effective” medical marijuana programs, opioid use has decreased, Nightingale said.
“Every now and then, you still hear someone say 'gateway drug' as if it's a foregone conclusion. But, you know, to those people, I say, if marijuana was a gateway drug, why wouldn't we see an increase in opioid use in Colorado, as opposed to a decrease?” he said. “If marijuana is a gateway drug, why do we see an over 25 percent reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths in states with effective medical cannabis programs?”