Can cannabis research save Pa’s struggling, post-industrial towns? | Monday Morning Coffee

The Carrie Furnaces. (Photo by George Corbin via Flickr Commons)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
We’ve been hearing a lot of arguments this year for legalizing recreational cannabis.

Criminal justice reformers see it as a way to end barriers to employment for users who have been pinched for enjoying the herb every now and again. Medical advocates see already legalized medical marijuana as a ticket to pain relief for any number of maladies. And then, of course, there’s the salutary benefit that legalized weed could have on the state’s bottom line.

And as our new friends at POSTINDUSTRIAL point out, there’s a chance that marijuana research could be an economic savior for such Pennsylvania towns as Farrell, Pa., in Mercer County, which is still trying to rebound from more than 30 years under state oversight.


“On the site of the former Sharon Steel Corp., FarmaceuticalRX has a cultivation center and laboratory as part of a sweeping plan to research cannabis. Company officials hope their effort will help rebuild the region and this slip of a town, which in February emerged from a state program for financially distressed municipalities after more than 30 years — longer than any other community in Pennsylvania.“’The whole model is to replace industries of the past with industries of the future,’ said Rebecca Myers, founder and CEO of FarmaceuticalRX.

“Myers said the company was thoughtful when it selected a location. “We are taking these old industrial buildings, and we are cleaning them and repurposing them into a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical business.”

Granted, the federal government still considers marijuana a controlled substance, but that hasn’t stopped “a burgeoning industry with a high cost of entry. In Pennsylvania, grower-processor license applications alone required proof of $2 million in capital and a $10,000 fee,” POSTINDUSTRIAL reports.

And if that means that such small communities as Farrell are elevated as a result of this booming industry, the community’s mayor says she’s just fine with it.

““It was time to come out,” three-term Mayor Olive McKeithan told the online news org. “Farrell has such a stigma and that stigma needed to be lifted.”

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket, we reveal how much you need to earn to afford a home in each of America’s large metro areas. And, as it turns out, Pittsburgh is a downright steal.
Stephen Caruso looks at an effort to undo the privatization of a bus rides program for Medicaid recipients.
Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender profiles U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, who achieved some Twitter notoriety the other week for trolling Trump White House aide Stephen Miller.
And in a story you won’t read anywhere else, an undocumented immigrant from Allentown tells his tale and calls on Congress to step up to protect the Dreamers.

On the Opinion side of the house, this unique mapping effort shows where air pollution hurts U.S. children the most.

The Inquirer has its voters guide to the 2019 Philly mayor and council primary races
Pennsylvania’s population is flattening out, but central Pennsylvania is a growth area, PennLive reports.
Pittsburgh’s young activists share their stories with the Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh officials are working to preserve a historic mural in a tunnel under Bigelow Boulevard, The Tribune-Review reports.

Here’s your very dramatic #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

State officials are investigating the largest marijuana dispensary permit holder, The Morning Call reports.
Current Philly Mayor Jim Kenney is being criticized for ‘spurning a vendor’ with ties to former Mayor John Street and what that means for the cleanliness of City Hall, BillyPennreports.
Today is Earth Day 2019. The Incline has a guide to how Pittsburghers can celebrate it every day.
PoliticsPA has last week’s Winners & Losers in state politics.
Politico asks whether authenticity really needs to matter in our politics.
The U.S. House will get its say as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a citizenship question on the Census, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate are both out of voting session until April 29.
The House Democratic Policy Committee meets in Springfield Twp. for a 2 p.m. hearing.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
and First Lady Frances Wolf hold an Earth Day observance at the Governor’s Residence on Second Street. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Bibio, it’s ‘A tout a l’Heure.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Boston got past Toronto 4-2 on Sunday, tying their Eastern Conference playoff series.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press


  1. Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational cannabis in Dec 2012. Legal sales began in Jan 2014 for Colorado, July 2014 for Washington.
    Clearly legal cannabis has not caused a surge in opioid deaths. It may have had a protective effect (as published studies support).

    Opioid Overdose Death Rate per 100,000 (age adjusted):

    2012: 7.4
    2017: 14.9 (increased 101%)

    Pennsylvania (legal medical only, begun in 2018)
    2012: 6.8
    2017: 21.2 (increased 212%)

    Washington State
    2012: 9.7
    2017: 9.6 (decreased 1%)

    2012: 7.7
    2017: 10.0 (increased 30%)

    [SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation]

    Any drug Overdose Death Rate per 100,000 (age adjusted):

    2012: 13.1
    2017: 21.7 (increased 66%)

    2012: 19.0
    2017: 44.3 (increased 133%)

    Washington State
    2012: 13.7
    2017: 15.2 (increased 11%)

    2012: 15.0
    2017: 17.6 (increased 17%)

    [SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation]

    Studies have shown that cannabinoids can help treat those addicted to hard drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol, and that it is an “exit drug” for some.

    This recent study found cannabis helped people stop using opioids completely in 59.3% of instances; another 18.4% reported reducing opioid use by at least 75%:

    “increased regulated access to medical and recreational cannabis can result in a reduction in the use of and subsequent harms associated with opioids, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances”
    [Lucas et al. 2019]

    Legal medical cannabis has been shown to significantly reduce deaths from prescription opioid painkillers by reducing opioid use:

    “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” [Bachhuber et al. 2014]

    Many other studies also support the notion that cannabis can be used as an ‘exit drug’: [Boehnke et al. 2016; Gruber et al. 2018; O’Connell TJ & Bou-Matar CB. 2007; Wiese B, Wilson-Poe AR. 2018; Reiman A. 2009]

  2. Americans don’t have to like cannabis, but they should hate its prohibition. This prohibition law strikes at the very foundation of our society. It is a tool of tyrants, used to violate core American beliefs and nearly every aspect of the Bill of Rights.

    A populace that accepts and becomes accustom to overreaching government policies, such as the prohibition of relatively safe, popular substances, becomes more accepting of overreaching, powerful government in general. This devastates America, not a plant that has been used by mankind since the beginning of recorded history.

    Those who believe in limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and individual liberty should embrace the ending of this irrational, un-American, fraudulently enacted cannabis prohibition experiment. It should be the cornerstone of current GOP policy.

    Federal studies show about half of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, at least 15% use it regularly, over 80% of high school seniors have reported cannabis “easy to get” for decades. This prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, has had little of its intended effect. In many cases cannabis prohibition makes cannabis usage problematic where it would not have been otherwise, be it light, moderate, or heavy usage. For the most part, cannabis prohibition only successfully prohibits effective regulation.

    A few issues created by prohibition: there are no quality controls to reduce contaminants (harmful pesticides, molds, fungus, other drugs), there is no practical way to prevent regular underage sales, billions in tax revenue are lost which can be used for all substance abuse treatment, underground markets for all drugs are empowered as a far more popular substance is placed within them expanding their reach and increasing their profits, criminal records make pursuing many decent careers difficult, police and court resources are unnecessarily tied up by pursuing and prosecuting victimless ‘crimes’, public mistrust and disrespect for our legal system, police, and government is increased, which is devastating our country.

    Prohibition is also very expensive, though, a cash cow for a number of powerful groups such as those related to law enforcement and the prison industry. These organizations have powerful lobbies and influence that perpetuate a failed drug policy through ignorance, fear, disinformation and misinformation. This ensures an endless supply of lucrative contracts, grants and subsidies from the government and its taxpayers to support their salaries, tools of the trade, ‘correctional’ services, and other expenses. Cash, property and other assets from civil forfeiture laws also significantly fatten their coffers while often violating civil rights.

    America was built on the principles of freedom and liberty. In some cases there are extreme circumstances that warrant intervention with criminal law. In the case of mind-altering drugs we have already set this precedent with alcohol. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and especially to others. If we are to have justice, then the penalties for using, possessing and selling cannabis should be no worse than those of alcohol.

    Regardless of legal status, a large market for cannabis will continue to exist as it has for decades. Either the underground controls the market and profits from it, or the state does…all while ending their assault on our citizens. Let’s end this costly, futile attempt to eradicate a plant that a majority of Americans believe should be legal.


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