Farnese backs bill to revive medical marijuana in PA

State Senator Larry Farnese (D-1st dist.) was part of a group of state legislators that introduced a bill last Tuesday in Harrisburg that would legalize medical marijuana use in Pennsylvania.

It’s a controversial topic, but, during an interview held Thursday, April 28, Farnese said his support of the bill comes from a personal place.

His 68-year-old father is a two-time cancer survivor that, he said, could have benefited greatly if the bill had been in place in the past.

“This is just another drug in the arsenal to fight disease,” said Farnese.

Farnese said his father suffered through chemotherapy treatments fighting two types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the 1990s.

“He would get his chemo treatment and would be vomiting and not eating for the next three days,” said Farnese. “I’ve always believed that this is something Pennsylvania should have.”

The bill, Senate Bill 1003, also called the “Governor Raymond Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” would allow those prescribed the drug to possess six marijuana plants or an ounce of the drug. The bill was introduced by state Senator Daylin Leach (D-17th dist.) and state Senators James Ferlo (D-38th dist.) and Wayne Fontana (D-42nd dist.) joined Farnese in sponsoring the bill.

Farnese said marijuana has been found to help ease pain in cases of chronic disease as well as help restore appetite.

Illnesses listed in the bill that could be treated by the prescription drug — which would be obtained at licensed “compassion centers” throughout the state — would range from cancer treatment to glaucoma, easing pain for HIV positive patients and other crippling diseases.

Also, Farnese noted, there is no language in the bill that would reduce punishment for or permit the use of the drug recreationally.

“This is highly controversial … But, it’s effective for the relief of pain,” he said. “There’s no language to allow recreational use or to lessen the punishment for recreational marijuana use.”

He did suggest, however, that he personally viewed recreational marijuana use as a lower priority crime, as compared to violent crimes, when asked about the District Attorney Seth Williams’ recent reduction in criminal charges on marijuana possession.

“Marijuana is illegal,” he said. “But, you have to balance out resources.”

There is no timetable for when the bill might be put up for a vote in Harrisburg, which Farnese said can be frustrating because often controversial bills such as this are “left to die in committee” and never make it out to the floor for a vote.

“It’s infuriating … Every bill should have the opportunity to be debated on the floor,” he said. “This is an issue that’s controversial and maybe some people will snicker. But, we as legislators have to do what our constituents want.”

Also, he said, there is a significant economic benefit element — money would be made through licensing the “compassion centers” — which could help fill budget gaps in state funding.

“We have the opportunity to close gaps instead of cutting education,” said Farnese. “Hopefully, Governor (Tom) Corbett will see the benefit of this as Governor (Chris) Christie has in New Jersey.”

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com