Interview: Daylin Leach Fights for Medical Marijuana

"Just the word, 'marijuana,' causes people to behave irrationally."

Sen. Daylin Leach

Sen. Daylin Leach

It’s about medicine, not drugs. Talk to Daylin Leach about his medical marijuana bill long enough, and you’ll come away with a command of that concept, if nothing else. The state senator, a Democrat from Montgomery County, is running for Congress—but before that happens, he’s determined to pass a state bill legalizing the use of cannabis as medicine.

“This will pass. This is gonna pass,” he says. “The question is how soon and whether children have to die before that happens. And that’s why we’re hoping to get it passed very soon. “

After a committee hearing on the bill this week, Leach talked with Philly Mag about medical marijuana, opposition to the bill, and how weed might be different from other items in your medicine cabinet.

Governor Tom Corbett (has) said he opposes medical marijuana* and believes pot to be a gateway drug to harder stuff. What’s your strategy in the face of those kind of long-held, ingrained attitudes?

Well, I mean, we have to educate him. Because first of all, this isn’t pot. This isn’t some leafy substance you smoke in a pipe and get high. This is usually a pill or an oil, and in the case of the kids with Dravet syndrome, who were there (at the committee hearing) today, you can’t get high on it. There are no side effects, you don’t smoke it, it has nothing to do with pot. And the idea that giving non-intoxicating medicine to a three-year-old is a “gateway drug,” just of course is nonsensical. Especially when the alternatives, the drugs we are giving them now, are in fact so addictive and so toxic and have so many horrible side effects, that why we wouldn’t want to give them a benign drug with no side effects, non-addictive, non-intoxicating and much more effective is beyond me.

As I understand it, there was testimony from the Pennsylvania Medical Society today that further research is needed on behalf of the benefits of medical marijuana before such a bill would be appropriate. Do you feel like they’re representing that correctly or are you getting ahead of the science?

First of all, I agree with some of their testimony. They support making marijuana no longer a Schedule I drug, for example. And we agree with research, but you know it disregards the fact that there are worldwide over 300 peer-reviewed, double-blind studies that meet FDA standards on marijuana, medicinal marijuana already. The only reason there is not FDA approval is because under federal law, being a Schedule I drug, the FDA can’t do the clinical trials themselves, or accept clinical trials that normally they would accept. So, yeah. I mean we’re always happy to do research. But in the mean time there are sick kids who we know this is working for. And so let’s get them the help they need.

On the other hand, it seems like there might be bipartisan support for the bill. I understand that one of the physicians offering testimony and support was the wife of House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who’s a Republican.

That is correct, she is very supportive. We had four moms testify today, and three of them are Republicans. We had Senator Don White at the hearing today, on the committee. He’s a co-sponsor of the bill, conservative Republican. Mike Folmer, obviously, is a co-prime sponsor of the bill with me — very, very conservative Republican. This is an issue that transcends Democrats and Republicans.

Let me play devil’s advocate for just a couple questions. Critics will suggest that medical marijuana is maybe a gateway to marijuana legalization. And they’ll point to places like California, where the barriers to getting a prescription can maybe be, perhaps, comically low. Is that a concern? And how does your bill confine marijuana — these medications — to those who really need it?

According to several people who have nationwide experience today, we have the best bill in the country. This bill, keep in mind that when you say it’s a gateway to legal recreational marijuana, first of all, while I may support that, that’s not what this bill is and that’s not what it does. There are now 21 states that have legal medical marijuana, only two of them have legal recreational marijuana. And some of them have had medical marijuana for years. These are separate fights that are being fought out separately. They’re totally separate issues.

Even if you legalized recreational marijuana, you would still need a medical marijuana bill to deal with things like insurance and prescriptions and protocol. So they’re just not even the same issue, other than it’s the same plant. And that’s one of the problems we have, this plant makes people lose their minds — and I don’t mean smoking it. I mean just the word, “marijuana,” causes people to behave irrationally.

It’s a sort of reefer political madness then?

Yeah, because giving medicine to a three-year-old to stop their seizures is not a gateway to anything.

Well given that there was one part of the bill that I thought was kind of interesting, then. Because the bill attempts to kind of bring medical marijuana into the mainstream, and yet it is also, if I was reading it correctly, there are some places that it suggests that medical cannabis should not be used, such as school buses, public parks, rec centers, basically lots of public places. We don’t keep people from swallowing their heart medicine in places like this, so why the distinction there?

Well, only because we’re trying to be extra, extra deferential to concerns… real or imagined, about this. You’re right. No one tells people where to take their heart medicine. But then again, no one’s afraid of the word “nitroglycerin.” So, we have to treat this differently than everything else for reasons that I can’t begin to understand. But anyway, look. If it helps get these kids medicine, then that’s fine.

* Corbett’s official position is that he would approve medical marijuana with FDA approval, which is unlikely at the moment. 

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