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This month the “Take Charge of Your Health Today” page focuses on the new Pennsylvania legislation on medical marijuana. Jennifer Jones, MPH, community engagement coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, discussed this topic.

JJ: Hello, Ms. Bush. This month’s topic is one that has been a topic of much current debate, especially here in Pennsylvania. For those reading this who may not know, Pennsylvania recently was the 24th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

EB: That’s correct, Jennifer. I think it’s important that our health page continues to address these local and national health issues. I realize that everyone has his or her own opinion on this new state law. Dr. Zemaitis, who discusses the topic in the overview, does a great job of giving us the details of what this new law means from a health standpoint. He talks about the law and the drug from a factual viewpoint. The point that I want to highlight is that when we talk about medical marijuana, we’re not talking about recreational marijuana usage. There is a difference. I cannot stress that enough. We need to remember that, under current federal law, possession is a federal crime and could be charged as a felony, depending on the circumstances.

JJ: You’re right. Each month, our health page provides the community with scientific and evidence-based information on the chosen topic. Medical marijuana is a sensitive topic. What’s challenging is that there’s not a lot of research to point us in the direction of whether or not medical marijuana use is a good thing.

EB: And why is that, Jennifer? You’re very well-informed about research.

JJ: Well, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the marijuana plant as a drug. That makes it difficult for researchers to conduct rigorous, large-scale clinical trials. To understand if a drug is safe and effective, supporting data and evidence need to show that. California—the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996—is leading the nation in research in this area. As Dr. Zemaitis mentions, Pennsylvania will need to begin to study the effects of this new law.

EB: Another part of this topic I want to address is the general social context around marijuana usage. This creates an even bigger debate, but I don’t want to shy away from it. I’m not the expert. I asked you to talk with Councilman Daniel Lavelle about his work on marijuana decriminalization in our city. I consider Councilman Lavelle to be a close colleague of mine. I respect and applaud his efforts. He understands the social and political parts of recreational marijuana and presents them with real local statistics. Yes, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are two different things. However, my comment on that is that we need to work together and not be afraid of discussing this critical issue. Introducing medical marijuana laws allows a broader discussion of the drug. I don’t know what this means for us going forward, but I’m glad that people are working on this issue.

JJ: Your insights are always so valuable. Thank you again for your time, Ms. Bush. I always enjoy hearing your perspective on our health topics. For more information or with questions, readers can e-mail



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