Though bills to legalize medical marijuana are pending in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate, neither is expected to pass anytime soon. But State Senator Daylin Leach, who proposed the bill in the state Senate, makes a moving argument for medical marijuana use. “This issue is important to me because my mother-in-law, Alice Mirak, died of breast cancer a number of years ago,” Leach says. “It was an extremely difficult thing to watch. Among her sufferings was wasting away due to an inability to eat. Marijuana can help with that, but she wouldn’t try it because it was illegal.” Leach doesn’t think the bill is on the verge of passage, but sees medical legalization as inevitable eventually: “Anybody’s family member can get sick, and when that happens, all anybody wants, no matter what their ideology, is the best possible medicine,” he says.
Ironically, Doug, the Chestnut Hiller, who’s been smoking pot for most of his life, is now the one among his friends who’s avoiding joints when friends pull them out. Doug says he grew up in a bohemian ’70s home where both his parents were regular ganja smokers. “I remember my dad being so high, I was scared to drive with him,” he recalls. His parents were lenient about letting Doug and his friends get high at their house — “My dad was fine with us staying up all night and barbecuing steaks at midnight,” he remembers. In high school, Doug was a star athlete and “in love with cannabis,” as he puts it, and he kept smoking all through the 1990s. But more recently, as a parent and husband, he’s just not that into pot. (The fact that he sometimes finds himself inspired to buy cocaine after he smokes pot — and then stays out all night at bars — has a lot to do with it.) Still, Doug says, though he’s currently pot-free, he doesn’t think smoking it is all that different from popping, say, a Xanax. “We live in a world of prescription-pill overload,” he observes, “so it’s not that I think pot is any worse than that.”
Health-wise, marijuana is far less potentially harmful than heroin or cocaine, and generally more benign than cigarette smoking, since most people smoke much less marijuana than they do tobacco. Still, smoking pot may weaken your immune system, increase your chances for pulmonary illnesses, contribute to depression, and impair memory and judgment. But among the New Pot Culture, these health risks seem to be completely ignored.
“Some people get caught up in OxyContin, which is a lot more damaging,” Bridget from Bryn Mawr argues. Bridget, who’s a Republican, is surprisingly liberal about marijuana laws, just like Amanda. “To be honest, I don’t see a reason for not making it legal,” she says. “If they put rules and regulations on it like they do for alcohol, the government could make a lot of money. And it would be safer, because it would be controlled.”