On Tuesday, May 12, the Pennsylvania Senate voted in favor of SB3 (40-7), a conservative medical cannabis products bill. If passed by the House, it would be the first medical bill in PA, but activists are deeply concerned about the severe limitations of the bill: prohibits home cultivation and smoking of cannabis, long registration programs for potential patients, and a 6 percent tax surcharge for all cannabis products. Despite these concerns, most activists would prefer SB3 over no bill whatsoever, which is a strong possibility due to the strong opposition of the Bill in the House. The leading opponent of the Bill as of now is Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County), Chair of the House Health Committee. Much like Governor Chris Christie, who is currently opposing a bill that would add PTSD patients to NJ’s Medical Marijuana Program, Rep. Baker is essentially disenfranchising the majority of the population by opposing legal medical marijuana, since recent polls showed that 88 percent of PA citizens support legalizing medical marijuana.
Four days after SB3 passed the Senate, PA activists held two demonstrations in the state in support of the bill on Saturday, May 16. At Penn Square in Lancaster, nearly 50 demonstrators attended the “Lancaster Hemp Freedom Rally,” hosted by the Keystone Cannabis Coalition. This marked the launching of the state-wide tour known as the Hemp Freedom Tour, which will hold rallies in other cities throughout the summer, with the next one taking place in West Chester on July 11. Those attending the rally – including older medical users, recreational users and children – listened to speeches as they received support from bystanders and drivers. Receiving news coverage from the “Patriot News,” executive director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, Les Stark, stated the goal of the protest: “We want to push Matt Baker and the health committee and the rest of the House of Representatives to push through Senate Bill 3.” (Debbie Truong, “Advocates rally for medical marijuana legalization in Lancaster,” Penn Live: The Patriot News, May 16, 2015) Those sharing the same goals at the rally included Luke Shultz, who suffers from lower back pain, Deb Guy, executive director of NORML, who uses cannabis to treat her fibromyalgia and degenerative joint disease, and Mary Lynn Sergent, who has a family history of arthritis and will have to rely on medical marijuana because she is allergic to opiates.
Representing the East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC), I attended the second rally that day on Broad & South Street in Philadelphia. Roughly 30 demonstrators joined the “Philly Marijuana March 2015,” orchestrated by Philly NORML as part of the annual global cannabis march (although two weeks late). I arrived there with NJ activists Claudia Schanil, Matt Milner and Eric, along with my cardboard “coffin” to represent the numerous deaths from prohibition. Veterans from the Philly Smoke Down Prohibition rallies were present as well – Chris Goldstein, Mike Whiter, Jamie Graham, Richard Dyott and more. Led by Chris Goldstein, this was Philly NORML’s first demonstration following the city’s Decriminalization Bill back in October 2014. Although the penalty for smoking in public would have only resulted in a $100 fine, demonstrators held back on smoking until the march was completed. Instead, protestors focused on educating the hundreds of bystanders and shoppers along South Street on the hot, summer day. We received unanimous support from shocked onlookers, who quickly took out their phones to snap pictures of the marchers holding marijuana signs. Goldstein humorously listed the complaints of marijuana prohibition like an infomercial would: “Are you tired of listening to Led Zeppelin albums for two hours at your dealer’s house? Then support regulation today.”
The Philly rally was important for lending support toward SB3 as well as organizing activists from the older Smoke Down Prohibitions. As of now plans are being made by the Panic Hour and ECCC to officially bring back the Smoke Down Prohibition protests on July 10. Activists are expected to congregate in Philly from around the East Coast to apply pressure through civil disobedience. Civil disobedience has been known to work miracles in changing government policies, and perhaps that is why the father of modern civil disobedience, A.J. Muste, described it as “Holy Disobedience.” Hundreds will risk the $100 fine and “put their body on the line” in order to save millions of lives and restore social justice, while building awareness among the public and decision-makers.