fetterman

DAVID E DALE | Herald 

As part of his statewide listening tour, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman came to Sharon Saturday to hear the opinions of Mercer County residents regarding the legalization of marijuana.

SHARON — A statewide tour to hear what Pennsylvanians think of marijuana legalization came to Mercer County, with local residents coming out to share their opinions.

To get a feel for what Pennsylvanians think on the subject, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman held a forum Saturday morning at Sharon Hall Auditorium in Penn State Shenango campus.

For Kevin VanTassel of Sharon, the debate over legalizing medical marijuana is a personal one after he was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago.

Now a prescribed medical marijuana user, VanTassel said it helped keep him from feeling sick from the effects of chemotherapy. He said medical marijuana should be made more accessible for those who need it, both in terms of going through the registration process and the cost involved — not arguing over whether or not it should be legalized.

“To me, it’s ridiculous that we’re arguing over a plant,” VanTassel said.

As a truck driver of 53 years, Chuck Orr, of Jackson Center, was concerned about the potential for people to drive under the influence of marijuana if it were legalized for recreational use.

Employers would also have to learn how to deal with the potential of their employees under the influence of marijuana. If employers let their workers out for a cigarette break, Orr asked if that meant employers would then have to start “policing” their own employees.

“What if someone goes out on a smoke break and they come back smelling like marijuana? What’s the employer supposed to do, send them home?” Orr said.

For Chris Gagliardi, of Sharpsville, taking opioids has been a part of his life since an injury affected his legs in 2001. Though he said he hopes to eventually wean himself off of his opioid medications in favor of medicinal marijuana, Gagliardi said the process of getting registered for medical marijuana can be expensive.

The medical marijuana ID alone cost $50, aside from the additional costs of seeing a doctor and having to pay for the actual marijuana, which can be difficult for people struggling financially, Gagliardi said.

“When I went to the doctor, I didn’t have to pay $50 for them to get me on opioids,” Gagliardi said.

If legalized, Gagliardi hopes to grow medical marijuana for himself, as the nearest dispensary is in Butler, he said.

“Other states have a hardship homegrown clause where if you don’t live within a certain distance of a growery or dispensary, you’re allowed to grow a certain amount for personal use,” he said.

Recognizing that legalization of marijuana was something that was likely in the future of Pennsylvania, Hermitage police Chief Eric Jewell said he could speak from personal experience about the “grief and suffering” caused by substance abuse, both alcohol and substances like marijuana.

“If legalization is coming, then I ask that it be done sensibly, and that it come with teeth to punish violators,” Jewell said.

At the end of the forum, a survey was taken in which attendees were asked if they supported legalization of marijuana, opposed it, or were still undecided on the issue. About 60 to 65 percent of the people there voted in favor, with about 40 percent opposed, Fetterman said.

Mercer County was only the 28th of the 67 counties planned for the listening tour, with the tour expected to be completed by May 19.

“It’s a topic that people feel very passionate about, and we’ve had some great conversations so far,” Fetterman said.

Throughout the previous counties Fetterman visited for the listening tour, the main talking points for both sides of the argument were marijuana’s potential effects on developing brains, the potential addiction aspect for some users, and impairment.

“With impairment, a lot of people don’t want to think of their doctor or airline pilot as being under the influence of marijuana,” Fetterman said.

However, the argument is far from one-sided, Fetterman said.

“We’ve heard from a lot of veterans who say that cannabis is the only thing that allows them to sleep or feel normal. There are people who say they have difficulty getting a job or applying for student loans because of a marijuana-related charge,” he said.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.