Chris Crossing York: How many suffering children will be enough?


It's necessary to preface this column with the fact that I do not smoke or otherwise partake of marijuana. That notification is the best way to head off the innuendo that opponents of the medical marijuana movement have employed so successfully to shame non-stoner proponents back into their quiet corners.

I can count on one hand the times I've tried pot, and the number of fingers I'm holding up is equal to the total number of times it made me giggle for about four minutes before I entered a heart-racing panic that lasted for what seemed like a wide-eyed eternity. Sort of how I imagine speed-dating.

Future shame: Now that gay marriage is legal in Pennsylvania, medical cannabis is our new "don't fall on the wrong side of history" civil-rights issue.

America has a tendency to peel ugly pictures from her scrapbook like a 50-year-old, chafing against the things she did when she was younger, trying to preserve her legacy.

Much of America opposed desegregation, gay marriage — and even the 19th Amendment. But the opposition always seems so sure of its arguments at the time, about where blacks should sit and whether ladies have the brains for votin'. It's all driven by fears about society changing.

So how sure are they now about medical marijuana?

The Mama Bears, a group of Pennsylvania moms advocating for their ailing children, could be future heroines, like the suffragettes and the abolitionists. They're probably the ones who will be right in the eyes of Mrs. Snyder's eighth-grade class at York Suburban in the year 2065.

Keystone-staters in 50 years will think it absurd that we denied convulsing children — at least a dozen of them in York County alone — of a plant oil while we were dying from addictions to prescription medications synthesized in labs.

Most of us already consider it absurd.

A Franklin & Marshall poll last June showed 84 percent of voters favored the use of medical marijuana for treatment with a doctor's recommendation.

To give that number some perspective, consider that only 49 percent of the registered voters in that poll supported the GOP-led Legislature's priority, the push for selling the state-owned liquor stores to private companies.

One by one, other states have legalized marijuana for medical and even recreational purposes, while Pennsylvania argues about where people should be allowed to buy 6-packs and 12-packs of beer. We're the Keystone state, but when was the last time we took the lead on anything?

It seems everyone is too busy out-conservative-ing each other in a Legislature that's woefully out of touch with its constituency, no matter how they've redrawn their own district boundaries.

Who's dying: The Yorkers I've interviewed as a reporter include parents of children under the age of 10 who have suffered everything from toxic liver to pancreatitis because of harsh pharmaceuticals they're taking, and yet the prescription meds still fail to control the seizures.

Cannabidiol, the low-or-no-THC oil that has been the subject of scientific reports showing decreases in seizures, doesn't have harsh side effects.

My last major project as a reporter involved months of research into heroin addiction, including its roots in prescription opioids and other "legal" drugs that people get hooked on before turning to heroin because it's cheaper.

The series culminated in a televised forum, with guests including York County Coroner Pam Gay.

When the cameras stopped rolling, the off-air conversation somehow turned to pot.

Gay's office handled 62 heroin deaths last year. Out of 110 total drug deaths in York County in 2014, 41 toxicologies showed opioids other than heroin, morphine and codeine.

Gay mentioned there wasn't a single marijuana overdose.

Because it doesn't happen. If anyone finds a single, scientifically sound report of someone in the history of the world dying of a marijuana overdose, send me that citation and call CNN.

Meanwhile, a real, peer-reviewed scientific publication, the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, published a report last year showing states that enacted medical cannabis laws saw a 33 percent decrease in opioid deaths by the fifth year.

As my Grandma Ida used to say, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it."

A movement: A group of parent-advocates that includes conservatives, liberals and those in between have been targeting the legislators who oppose medical cannabis and changing their minds one at a time by actually showing the lawmakers what their children face every day.

It's been fascinating to watch a fledgling movement take shape, with York County parents from all walks of life among those leading the charge in an unlikely alliance among people who might otherwise have nothing in common. It's amazing how Republicans and Democrats outside the Legislature can come together when their concern is genuine fear for the lives of their children.

Legislators in support of legalization originally included just far right and liberal lawmakers, like the bell curve of the political spectrum bent to form a circle and the two ends connected.

Middle-of-the-road Republicans were afraid at first, maybe because nobody wanted to look like a stoner. Perhaps even worse was the apparent prospect of looking like a Democrat. And then there's the obvious ambivalence to enter a conversation that could venture into what certain politicians did or didn't smoke in high school or college.

But now the center of the circle is filling in with "traditional" Republicans such as Stan Saylor. He said last year he was concerned about killing brain cells — an argument that got frustrated reactions from parents whose children suffer brain damage every time they have a seizure — but he's now among those at least willing to vote for medical marijuana under certain parameters.

So what changed the mind of the former majority whip?

He attended a meeting at a constituent's house in Springettsbury Township and saw a little boy having a seizure, which Saylor said "scared the hell" out of him.

Imagine how it feels for the little boy, Jack.

He hasn't had an episode any of the times I've seen him or met with his mother, but what I saw was sad enough.

Jack was a healthy 5-year-old, one of a set of twin boys, when he suddenly developed a severe seizure disorder that has brought him perilously close to death.

All the more heartbreaking is that his twin no longer has the brother he once knew. Jack can't even talk with him now, and his brain damage worsens every time he suffers a seizure.

If his parents ever wonder how Jack might look and behave without this debilitating disease, they only need to look at his healthy brother.

That's got to be incredibly painful, especially while trying to lobby a Legislature that's clueless to your reality and thinks you're exaggerators and stoners.

— Christina Kauffman writes Chris Crossing York, an occasional column, and is the project coach at The York Dispatch. With the free time she enjoys while not smoking pot, she likes home improvement and seeing how much she can shove into her C-RV. Contact her at, @shewritesitdown on Twitter, or 505-5436.