Debate: Should Pennsylvania Legalize Marijuana?

Allen St. Pierre,

Executive Director, NORML and the NORML Foundation

David Freed,

Cumberland County District Attorney

Professor Daniel Kenney,

Dickinson College, Moderator

Marijuana Poster
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Stern Center, Great Room – 7:00 p.m.

Thousands of Pennsylvanians each year are arrested for possessing and using marijuana. Does this policy of jailing marijuana users make any sense? What are the reasons for this policy? What are the reasons against it? Our panelists will debate these issues prior to a general question-and-answer period.

“Continuing the Conversation”
Stern Center, Room 102 – immediately following the debate

Topical Background
The debate concerning the legality or illegality of marijuana use has been going on for at least 70 years. However, Starting in the 1970s, twelve states (AK, CA, CO, ME, MN, NE, NV, NY, NC, OH and OR) began to decriminalize marijuana for personal use. Despite this trend, Pennsylvania continues to incarcerate and fine people convicted of possessing and distributing marijuana. Currently in the United States, more people are arrested per year for marijuana-related crimes than for all violent crimes.

Why is it that although the possession of obscene materials in one’s own home can’t be prosecuted, the private possession and use of marijuana are still subject to prosecution? Should Pennsylvania follow in the footsteps of states, such as California, that have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes? These are a few of the pressing issues surrounding the potential legalization of marijuana use.

Recent studies have shown that the topical use of cannabinoids may reduce the spread of MRSA – a disease that now results in more deaths annually in the United States than AIDS. On the other hand, in addition to the widely known respiratory problems associated with smoking, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that use of marijuana has been linked with depression, suicide and schizophrenia, especially among teenagers.

About the Speakers
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Foundation, has worked extensively to change the laws prohibiting cannabis in the United States. Mr. St. Pierre graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1989 where he received his bachelor of arts in Legal Studies. He has been involved in many debates and lectures in areas related to the illegality of marijuana, such as medical access to cannabis, drug education, and mandatory minimum sentencing. Before serving as executive director for the NORML Foundation, Mr. St. Pierre was NORML’s Communications Director and Deputy National Director.

David Freed has been Cumberland County’s District Attorney since December 2005. Prior to this position, Mr. Freed worked for five years as the First Assistant District Attorney for Cumberland County. Mr. Freed graduated cum laude from Washington and Lee University and received his J.D. from Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law. Mr. Freed has lectured on topics concerning law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Institute. He is the Chairman of the Education and Training Committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives have asked Mr. Freed to testify on a variety of issues.

Professor Daniel Kenny, a visiting instructor of the Department of Political Science at Dickinson College, will moderate the debate.

Related Readings
2006 article regarding Pennsylvania Sentencing Alternatives that appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot News and was reprinted in the Pennsylvania DA’s Association (PDAA) Newsletter Patriot Alternatives
2007 editorial counterpoint that appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot News and was reprinted in the PDAA Newsletter PDAA Newsletter
2008 opinion piece co authored with Lauren Cotter Brobson that appeared in the Carlisle Sentinel Carlisle Sentinel