Polls show that 80% of people in Pennsylvania support legalizing marijuana for medical uses. The man who introduced the bill, Rep. Mark Cohen, says he does not yet have enough votes to pass it through the state legislature, but is sure the time will come.
The survey, by two Franklin & Marshall College staff members, also showed that only 33% of the state’s voters favor the outright legalization of marijuana.
"Even though there is broad popular support for legalizing medical marijuana in the state, prospects for its legalization seems slim," wrote the two college surveyors, G. Terry Madonna, director of the center for politics and public affairs and Berwood Yost, director of the center for public research.
Leading the opposition to the bill is Rep. Matthew Baker, who fears that a medical marijuana bill is actually a "Trojan horse to legalize the use of pot throughout the nation."
He quotes a 2006 Federal Drug Administration report that says, "no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States…"
He believes many Republicans and Democrats are opposed to medical marijuana. When asked what then might be motivating Cohen, he offers the view that Cohen represents a far more liberal constituency than some other legislators, including himself.
Madonna and Yost, in their survey report, address the demographic issue this way:
"Support for legalizing marijuana declines with age, among self-described conservatives, and with born-again Christians," the report said.
But, they went on to say, "Just about every demographic group supports the use of medical marijuana, but the likelihood of supporting it is higher among women than men, among liberals and moderates than conservatives, and among those who do not consider themselves born-again Christians."
Many believe there is a link between pot use and the move to harder drugs. One of those people is Sharon Smith, of Mechanicsburg, who Baker suggested as an interview subject.
Smith’s daughter Angela, then 18, died of a heroin overdose in 1998, her body discovered in a creek. She said her daughter began smoking pot at the age of 14, but then graduated to harder drugs until finally she ended up a heroin user. Smith is vehemently opposed to drugs, and has been crusading against them ever since.
Cohen, who is the chairman of the House Health Committee, where Democrats hold the majority, dismisses the complaints of critics in the other camp that say that pot can be addictive and lead to harder drug use.
"It may be as addictive as chocolate," he said in an interview.
He compared the legalization of marijuana to the change in gambling laws. Years ago, he noted, the illegal numbers racket in most American cities made money off of gambling. Then the state decided to get into the lottery business, and the money — rather than going to illegal gamblers — goes to help senior citizens.
But he knows he doesn’t have the support to move the bill for a vote now.
"I think people are used to striking an anti-drug pose," he said.