AP NEWS

Commissioners Meeting Features Sparring Between Cummings, Marijuana Advocates

March 6, 2019

SCRANTON — Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings clashed with advocates of legalizing recreational marijuana today, with some calling on Cummings to apologize for a Facebook post they feel demeaned a self-described disabled marijuana user.

Cummings said marijuana advocates regularly bully and harass her online for her anti-pot beliefs.

The fiery debate began Saturday when Lt. Gov. John Fetterman visited Penn State Scranton for the 13th stop on his county-by-county recreational marijuana listening tour. Cummings attended the event and argued against legalizing recreational pot use, but the majority of attendees held the opposite view. The debate continued on Facebook when Cummings posted on her personal page about a man who spoke at the listening session.

The man, who did not give his name, claimed his spinal cord “was torn by 80 percent” and that he suffered “bone-on-bone” in both hips from cartilage loss. Standing from his wheelchair after some effort, the man endorsed marijuana.

“They say I should have absolutely no ability to walk, but God loves me and he has given me his miracle medication,” the man said.

Cummings appeared to mock the man in a Facebook post published on her page at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. The session was still ongoing at the time; Cummings left the event early.

“I have just witnessed the biggest side show at the listening tour I have ever seen,” Cummings wrote. “People enter the room in a wheel chair due to a broken back, then when speaking stand up and walk to the podium claiming the almighty pot plant healed him. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

In comments on that and other Facebook posts, Cummings and members of the pro-pot crowd exchanged insults. Cummings wrote that some attending the event were “a bunch of lunatics” and that “those on pot” don’t work for a living. Some of Cummings’ critics fired back, calling her things like “uninformed” and an “idiot.” Some went further and insulted her appearance.

Today, businessman Bob Bolus, who opposes legalizing recreational pot, and several advocates of it continued the debate at a commissioners meeting. After Bolus argued that legalized marijuana represents a public safety risk, a handful of advocates defended it and called on Cummings to apologize for her Facebook remarks.

“I am disabled,” said Clarks Summit resident Lacie Walker, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and uses medical marijuana. “I’m sorry that I can walk and I’m sorry that my disability is upsetting to you, but cannabis gave me my life back.”

In a lengthy Facebook back-and-forth several days ago, Walker and Cummings sparred over Cummings’ post about the disabled man. Walker argued that Cummings disingenuously said the man claimed he had been miraculously cured by marijuana and called her a “sad sack of a liar.” Cummings responded directly to Walker.

“I am so sick and tired of you pot heads spewing your nonsense and uninformed invalid claims regarding pot,” Cummings wrote.

As a constituent, Walker said it felt “rotten” and “awful” to be insulted by a sitting commissioner. As an elected official, Cummings should expect people to be critical of the public positions she takes, Walker said.

After the meeting, Cummings said she doesn’t take back anything she wrote and argued the marijuana advocates went to her personal Facebook page and attacked her.

Cummings went on to say she left the Fetterman event because she felt unsafe there, and provided The Times-Tribune a screenshot of a Facebook post where a marijuana enthusiast bragged he “chased her and her outdated propaganda out of the building” at a Feb. 2 medical marijuana seminar hosted by state Rep. Marty Flynn. Another Facebook user posted that she hopes Cummings ends up with brain cancer or “ANY serious medical issue that cannabis can help heal or cure.”

“I am on the receiving end of a group of people who are hell-bent on destroying people who disagree with their opinions,” Cummings said. “If they are going to continue to act this way and try to destroy people and stifle people’s speech, this is what they are going to get. ... I was defending myself.”

During the meeting, Scranton resident Vince Matcheson, who started using marijuana at age 54 after being injured in an accident, suggested the two sides meet.

“Instead of all the arguing, how about we get together,” Matcheson said. “Let’s have a meeting. Let’s have a discussion. Let’s sit down. Why keep this ... social media stuff going?”

Cummings said she would be happy to have such a meeting.

Despite the drama, Wednesday’s commissioners meeting ended with a surprise 50th birthday party for Commissioner Patrick O’Malley, complete with balloons and a cake.

Contact the writer: jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141; @jhorvathTT on Twitter

Lackawanna County officials today announced Brenda Sacco as acting economic development director.

Sacco, the former deputy director of operations and finance in the economic development department, fills a role vacated by former director George Kelly. Kelly who resigned earlier this year and is now running as a Democrat candidate for county commissioner with incumbent Commissioner Jerry Notarianni.

Sacco will earn an annual salary of $68,000 in the new post. She began working for the county in 2013 after an almost 20-year career in finance.

— JEFF HORVATH