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As Pennsylvania considers medical cannabis, where do MDs fit in? p2

The statewide debate over legalizing medical marijuana continues, but now the governor has weighed in: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced recently that he would sign a bill if it could pass both houses of the General Assembly. It may end up being a safer position for Pennsylvania's new governor: While public support is strong, it is by no means a sure thing that the bill will make it to his desk.

Proponents have pledged to build a system that offers maximum benefit to patients without sacrificing the safety of anyone involved. They also want to ensure that research into the benefits and risks of medical cannabis -- especially the long-term effects -- continues.

At its simplest, the argument in favor of legalization is this: Every day doctors prescribe dangerous drugs, drugs that can be lethal if abused, drugs that are linked to criminal activity. No one has ever overdosed on medical marijuana, and its healing powers have been documented for centuries.

The counterpoint is that there may be anecdotal evidence of the drug's effectiveness, but there are no clinical trials to back it up. Without that research, prescribing may be a crapshoot, and that would compromise any claims of marijuana's benefits. Clinical trials would also address questions about long-term effects.

Medical professionals are concerned, too, about how any legislation or rulemaking will shape their responsibilities and accountabilities. For example, there are more than a few things that have to happen just to get to the point of recommending cannabis as a treatment.

We'll get into specifics in our next post.

Sources:

Trib Live, "Doctors debate caution vs. medical need for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania," Melissa Daniels, Feb. 25, 2015

The General Assembly of Pennsylvania, Senate Bill 3 (as introduced), Session of 2015

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