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Local Residents Weigh In On Marijuana At Lieutenant Governor’s Listening Tour At Penn State Scranton

March 3, 2019

DUNMORE — A show of hands Saturday indicated a majority of more than 200 people assembled to provide input on recreational marijuana are proponents of legalizing it statewide.

Gathered at Penn State Scranton for the Lackawanna County stop on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s county-by-county “listening tour,” intended to gauge attitudes toward legalizing recreational pot, self-described marijuana aficionados and those in favor of its continued prohibition patiently stood in line behind microphones to weigh in. The Democratic lieutenant governor sat or stood stoically while he listened, interjecting to remind the sparring factions to remain civil amid an often passionate parlay of opinions.

“What’s interesting to me is your views, and that’s why I’m here,” Fetterman told the crowd at the outset. “There is no guided discovery here. There is no bias in me. We are here to hear from every voice who wants to share. That’s my commitment to you.”

Many of the voices that spoke up endorsed legalizing recreational marijuana, sometimes touting its medical benefit and its potential as a source of tax revenue while framing it as less harmful than opioids and alcohol.

“I would like to see all forms of cannabis, including recreational, legalized and taxed and the proceeds used either to offset property taxes or to expand Medicaid,” said James Luby of Scranton. “Please let’s be mindful of the fact that New York and New Jersey are fast moving toward legalization. If we’re not on board with them, the Commonwealth will be flooded with cheap, untaxed pot, and that’s only going to cause us more problems than it prevents.”

Former state corrections officer John Witzgall of Archbald also called for legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, recreational pot. He said he’s seen how prison inmates miss weddings, funerals, birthdays and their families in general while locked up, and suggested current marijuana laws often make criminals of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Those that disagreed often pointed to potential dangers, from stoned drivers to marijuana’s effect on developing minds. Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings voiced her well-documented opposition to legalized pot and reiterated criticisms of the state’s medical marijuana program, arguing there have been “no legitimate scientific studies to either prove or disprove (marijuana’s) safety or efficacy.”

 

Citing an exhaustive review conducted by the National Academy of Medicine in 2017, Scranton resident Marie Schumacher argued that cannabis use is “likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychosis.”

While some pot proponents laughed at the suggestion, Schumacher said “the last thing we need is to lose a large segment of our youth having them end up in a psychiatric institution.”

Several argued legal recreational marijuana will make traffic and some workplaces more dangerous. Others claimed the substance drastically improved and in some cases saved their lives.

When Clarks Summit resident James Patrick Walker’s wife, Lacie, was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder several years ago, the pills she was prescribed to manage the pain made her a “zombie,” he said. Prior to the state’s medical marijuana program, Walker did what he had to do to get her to try marijuana, which he said “absolutely saved her life.”

“We try to be good people,” he said. “We pay our taxes. We bring the shopping carts back from the parking lot. We try our best to do the right thing here, and I felt like a criminal for many years because we didn’t have this available to us, this medical marijuana program. And I think that ending the stigma around marijuana in general, cannabis in general, would do a lot for us.”

As Fetterman’s listening tour continues, residents who missed Saturday’s session may submit feedback on the legalization of recreational marijuana online at www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback.

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jhorvath@timesshamrock.com;

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