By Debbie Truong
LANCASTER — Dozens of people gathered in Penn Square Saturday afternoon, donning shirts, pins and necklaces, and toting signs indicating their support for the legalization of medical marijuana and industrial hemp.
They were part of the Lancaster Hemp Freedom Rally, the kick-off to a statewide tour that will also include stops in Reading, York and Harrisburg, among others.
Saturday's rally, organized by the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, took place four days after medical marijuana legalization passed the state Senate by a 40-7 vote. The bill is now being considered by the House Health Committee headed by Matt Baker, R-Tioga County, who said he has no plans to take up any medical marijuana bill, the Associated Press reported.
Les Stark, executive director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, said the rally in Lancaster was important for demonstrating public support at the end of a pivotal week in the push to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Dozens Gather For Lancaster Hemp Freedom Rally
Luke Shultz, 53, said he's been dogged with chronic lower back pain for much of his adult life. Shultz said he'd prefer to use medical cannabis rather than opiates and other pain medications for relief.
"We want to push Matt Baker and the health committee and the rest of the House of Representatives to push through Senate Bill 3," he said.
Ultimately, Stark said the organization would like to see a legal, taxed and regulated cannabis industry in Pennsylvania that mirrors those in Colorado and Washington.
Mary Lynn Sergent, of Shrewsbury, said she has a family history of arthritis and had a hip replacement last year. She's allergic to opiates, so medical marijuana would be a key alternative to helping provide relief.
"I will be in the population that will benefit and desperately need medical marijuna to relieve pain as I age," Sergent said. "Things like oxycontin aren't going to work for me."
Deb Guy, executive director of the Lancaster subchapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was in her twenties when she said she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and degenerative joint disease.
She tried a host of pharmaceutical drugs, sometimes up to 40 painkillers a day of "anything mixed from oxy to morphine to Vicodin" but nothing helped.
She gained weight, topping out at 230 pounds. She wasn't healthy and faced "some pretty bad health scares." She said she stopped using the pharmaceutical drugs and started using cannabis.
"It changed my life. I am now much healthier, much thinner," she said. "And, I'm functional. I don't have an issue with getting out of my bed every morning."
Bills have also been introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate to create a pilot program to research the cultivation of industrial hemp. The federal farm bill passed in 2014 allowed states to create programs for cultivating industrial hemp, which was banned for decades because of its association with marijuana.
Industrial hemp can be used for textiles, food and fuel, among other things.
"It's an excellent opportunity for our farmers, for our economy, for creating jobs in manufacturing," Stark said.
By early Saturday afternoon, a few advocates stood at the edge of Penn Square, waving signs as traffic streamed through the thoroughfare. Some drivers honked and signaled their support with cheers or a thumbs up.
Under a nearby gazebo, a musician crooned the lyrics to Tom Petty's You Don't Know How it Feels.
I'll take you on a moonlight ride /
There's someone I used to see /
But she don't give a damn for me /
But let me get to the point, let's roll another joint ...
- VIA PennLive