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Q&A: State Sen. Larry Farnese on Medical Marijuana Bill

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Philadelphia State Senator Larry Farnese says he's for letting people vote on stuff. That probably doesn't sound like the most revolutionary idea, but he tells us that during his short time in Harrisburg, he's come to the sad realization that lots of people are afraid to bring legislation — progressive legislation, specifically — to the floor. Why? "Conservatives think some stuff will pass and the right wing really doesn't want certain legislation getting through," he says. One such piece of progressive legislation Farnese's trying to, at the very least, get to a floor debate: Senate Bill 1003, medical marijuana legislation which he co-sponsored with Sen. Daylin Leach, Wayne Fontana and Jim Ferlo.

Like many medical marijuana advocates, Farnese sees his support of such legislation as a part of a greater medical and economic good in the state. Medical marijuana will both provide humane treatment to patients and help bring in more state funds so more budgetary cuts won't be necessary, he says. Check out our Q&A below.

Why is legalizing medical marijuana important to the state of Pennsylvania right now?

Well, first off, I have personal experience with this issue. My dad is a two-time cancer survivor. He had two bone marrow transplants in the late 90s. Before that he went through non-Hodgkins lymphoma, that's the kind that's not curable. I say that because about twice a month we'd have to go to Boston to get his chemo. As a bi-product of that he would get sick for three days straight.

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease itself. And marijuana, the medical use of it, by talking to physicians and talking to folks at the cancer institute, I found out they all support the idea. Because not only would it help ease the nausea but would help bring back the appetite. And for chemotherapy patients — and this is the same for AIDS patients, debilitating bone disease patients — the ability to take the medication and then be able to recuperate, get your strength back through appetite, keeping food down, it's just vital to overcoming the illness. I've seen first hand what the illness does to patients and family members.

I think if he had had access to those drugs, it would have been one more arrow in the arsenal, one more thing to fight his condition. So, as we move forward now I think the main thing for Pennsylvania to do is allow medical marijuana in certain situations and allow folks to have access to this. And it should be and it will be highly regulated, it will be regulated by the state police and the health department. It will be subject to state regulation and it will be subject to strict prosecution for misuse.

But marijuana is just one other humane drug we can use to give people some comfort when they're going through this difficult treatment.

Why do you think Pennsylvania is lagging so far behind other states like Alaska, California, Vermont, and others, on this issue?

We're lagging behind other states in all issues. We're lagging behind on hate crimes legislation, anti-discrimination legislation...But why are we lagging behind? Because I think sometimes we get bogged down with political partisan politics, we get bogged down with special interests. And we lose sight of why the people sent us to Harrisburg in the first place. There are underlying partisan politics that prevents us from being progressive.

And I'm not just talking about liberal progressive politics, I'm talking about things that are economically viable for Pennsylvania and things that are humane. I think we get bogged down sometimes with special interests and the inability to see why we're sent there.

If nothing else this issue deserves debate. So it should not be held up in committee, shouldn't be tabled, it should come to the forefront and everybody in the general assembly, in the House and the Senate, should have an opportunity to vote for what their constituents want. That's what politics is about and that's what democracy's about. I think we lag behind because many time we don't give time for important issues to be debated.

Do you believe this bill has a better chance of succeeding now that it did last year?

I think it has a chance of succeeding for two reasons.

First of all, the importance of it medically, to patients who are suffering from severe illness. I think there's enough medical data that supports this.

But there's also an economic component. And that is, by being able to tax medical marijuana and bring it into the revenue stream of the Commonwealth, we're going to address what has become a serious budget deficit in this state. And this revenue is not only necessary, but vital to being able to close budgetary shortfalls. So it'll help us better provide the services that people in this commonwealth need. We need new ways to continue being able to fund basic education, complete education, to provide services to folks, women's centers, after-school programs, to be able to fund a higher level of education.

The revenue we receive from this bill will begin to close these budgetary gaps and allow the people of this state to get the services and the benefits they deserve. We wouldn't have to make the severe cuts they're receiving this year. Students wouldn't have to have a potential 10 percent tuition increase just to go to school, to get a higher education. I mean, that's ridiculous.

There's revenue on the table. There's this, there's Marcellus shale, there's smokeless tobacco — we have an opportunity in this state to bring in revenue, to do what other states across the country do and to be in the position to provide people access to the services they need. We just cut 40,000 off of healthcare? That's a crime. But it's because there's no money for it. And I just think that's BS.

Has Tom Corbett said or done anything to make you believe he'd sign such a bill into law?

No, he has not. Personally, what I look at is, I think he's modeling himself after Christie in New Jersey. And Christie is a Republican, but he understands how important this type of legislation is to the people he governs. Let me make this very clear: it's my hope that the administration for the governor, that he will see the distinction between campaigning and governing. He won the election, he was sent to Harrisburg to govern and he has to do that. I think Christie, at times, understands that. He was sent to govern and he's partially supportive of medical marijuana in New Jersey. My hope is that Corbett will equally support a bill like this if he sees the benefits.

Part of the rationale behind the bill is the very high number of marijuana arrests in Pennsylvania. Are you in favor of DA Seth Williams' change in marijuana policy in Philadelphia?

I think it's important a distinction is made. This bill is not going to make it any easier for people to abuse marijuana or sell marijuana. It has nothing to loosen the law on that. That's why I mention I'm supportive of law enforcement enforcing the misuse of marijuana and if people misuse marijuana under this law, they will be fully prosecuted.

So that's one thing.

But I think that as part of my job as a legislator and a lawmaker, we need to look at where the benefits are to law enforcement. Is it more important for law enforcement to spend their time tracking down drug dealers who sell things like heroin, crack, cocaine, is it better for them to spend their valuable time and their precious time chasing after that than chasing some guy down for a small bag of marijuana or a joint? Clearly they are both illegal but I think the District Attorney sees that issue and I support that idea of balancing law enforcement time and resources.

Looking ahead, do you think a bill like this could ever lead to a change in the state's policy on casual marijuana use?

No I don't. I don't think so. I don't believe in the slippery slope argument. I don't believe in those arguments, period, I think that's something lawmakers made up to avoid a vote on something. I think there's going to be a strong policy in effect, I think casual issues of marijuana are prohibitive and I support that.

But people are using marijuana already. They're selling it, they're using it out there, and there are many reports out there that say alcohol abuse and gambling is much more rampant and worse and more destructive than marijuana. There's all kinds of reports. But to me, we need to really balance law enforcement and balance their prosecution of crime and distinguish what is problematic to society.

But again, I don't think this bill is a step in the direction of making the recreational use of marijuana legal. I do not believe that.

Even though this bill is not, would you ever support such legislation?

Not right now. And again I don't think that's, I'm very heavily involved in legislation I put out. I write my own legislation and do a lot of the research myself, so I'm not even going to comment on that until I have an opportunity to actually look into it. So right now I don't see myself supporting that legislation, right now, because I haven't seen a bill and I don't yet know what the consequences of it are.

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: blogs.philadelphiaweekly.com
Author: Randy LoBasso
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Copyright: Philadelphia Weekly
Website: Q&A: State Sen. Larry Farnese on Medical Marijuana Bill
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