The Federal Government hasn’t legalized medical marijuana and therefore can still prosecute a person with its own resources.

Alfonso Gambone
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A Philadelphia criminal defense attorney representing accused persons throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Medical marijuana is coming to Pennsylvania based on alleged research that it can assist patients suffering from serious medical conditions by alleviating pain and improving their quality of life.   The Federal government, however, and many doctors still have a problem with this alleged medical treatment from a medical, philosophical and societal standpoint.  Much like pornography, gambling and live adult entertainment one could argue that it has some benefit but do those benefits outweigh the negative impact on Commonwealth?  

The Potential Side Effects of Marijuana

The Commonwealth is legalizing the use of this drug only for this purpose despite other studies which show that daily marijuana use can reduce intellectual function and that users have a higher chance of developing a dependence on other drugs (gateway drugs) and even attempting suicide. Further, other studies link heavy marijuana use to lower income, greater welfare dependence, unemployment, criminal behavior, and lower life satisfaction.  This could be the reason why the federal government isn’t moving to legalize it nationwide and the Surgeon General’s office will probably likely never endorse it as medical treatment.


Pennsylvania’s position on Medical Marijuana  

Despite these issues, medical marijuana has been approved to treat the following conditions in the Commonwealth:

  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Chrone’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
  • Intractable Seizures
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Sickle Cell Anemia


Eligibility Requirements    

To purchase medical marijuana a patient will need to be under the care of a physician who is registered with the Department of Health within the Commonwealth. The doctor needs to provide a signed certification to the patient stating that the patient has a serious medical condition and the patient must then apply to the Department of Health for an identification card.  Once the patient receives the card, he can purchase the medical marijuana at an authorized dispensary. Currently the Department of Health is authorizing 150 dispensaries across the state but the new law has also created a Medical Marijuana Advisory Board which may make changes to the program.


The Federal Government and Medical Marijuana

It’s important to keep in mind that the Federal Government hasn’t legalized medical marijuana and therefore, technically, it can prosecute a person for its use. The Federal Government can’t force states to criminalize conduct that is illegal under federal law, nor can it force state or local police to enforce federal laws. It’s also important to know that all states, including Pennsylvania have a right to make laws which govern the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens.  While the federal government can’t force Pennsylvania or any state to prosecute a crime related to marijuana possession, it can do so with its own resources (federal agents, courts, etc)


Medical Marijuana is legal but Pennsylvania knows that it may cause problems


While Pennsylvania has legalized this drug, the new law has also created a source of revenue to support drug abuse prevention, counseling, and treatment services, as well as programs to support the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Obviously Pennsylvania is concerned about marijuana as a “gateway drug” but understands that it has some alleged benefits in regards to alleviating pain. With that said, it’s important to keep in mind that this legalization is highly regulated and a person who fails to satisfy these requirements will be prosecuted for Possession or Possession with the Intent to Deliver or Distribute this otherwise illegal drug. Personally, I believe that Pennsylvania is making a mistake here and legalization will cause more drug addiction issues along with increased DUI crimes.  I also believe that many medical doctors will have a problem with proscribing medical marijuana as a treatment. 


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