Altoona Mirror LEAD IN

Altoona Mirror LEAD IN

Rally to set focus on medicinal pot

October 23, 2015
By Sean Sauro  ssauro@altoonamirror.com
Traveling toward Heritage Plaza along 11th Avenue Friday evening, motorists and pedestrians were greeted by a multi-color sign boasting the message: “Cannabis is medicine.”
With that notion in mind, dozens of medical marijuana advocates gathered at the plaza to voice their support for the drug, educate the public and put pressure on legislators to vote for legalization.
“This is a quality of life thing,” said Christy Billett, an event co-organizer with Pennsylvanians for Safe Access, an advocacy group. “This is not a Cheech and Chong thing.”
Onlookers — some clad in shirts and hats depicting green marijuana leaves — sat on the plaza’s semicircular ledge while Billet offered information about the drug’s medical applications.
  See Rally/Page A8  RALLY:  Some in crowd were chanting ‘legalize’  (Continued from Page A1)  The information listed cancer, post traumatic stress disorder and seizures among some of the conditions marijuana could treat.
She also spoke out against some of the stoner stigma, explaining there are many ways — other than smoking — that cannabis can be administered to sick patients in need.
“Does it look like we are doing bong hits?” she said. “It’s not about getting high. It’s about getting healthy.”
Julie Michaels — a Fayette County teacher, Republican and mother — said she could support that message.
Michaels, who also spoke from the stage, said her 6-year-old daughter, Sydney, suffers from Dravet syndrome, which causes here to have as many as 3,000 seizures per week.
Michaels said Sydney’s seizures started when she was only a few months old, and, throughout the years, she has been subjected to seemingly countless medication prescriptions, some with negative side effects.
Traveling as far as Harrisburg to attend pro-cannabis rallies, Michaels said she’s been working to lobby for medical marijuana, which she thinks could help ease her daughters symptoms.
“It’s no different from any other medication,” she said. “People just don’t understand it.”
Michaels wasn’t alone in her beliefs. Altoona resident Glenda Brantner and Duncansville resident Diana Trauger, both wearing cannabis-leaf T-shirts, said they and many others could benefit from the drug.
Brantner, a cancer survivor, said she has grandchildren with conditions like autism, attention deficit disorder and seizures, who could benefit from marijuana use.
“It’s criminal not to let us use this,” Brantner said, comparing marijuana to some addictive painkillers and other medications. “They want to pass those out like Skittles.”
Trauger, who has lupus, said she could benefit from marijuana use, but, with social responsibilities, she can not afford the consequences of using an illegal drug.
“I know a lot of people who wouldn’t even come here because they are afraid of what people might think,” she said of the rally.
Trauger said she hopes the rally helped to spread the pro-cannabis message to the public.
And some in attendance were spreading that message loudly, continually chanting “legalize.”
Jayme Jenkins of Altoona said he hopes legalization will come soon. Jenkins said he has a condition that makes him nervous and was prescribed pills that “turn him into a zombie.”
Marijuana, he said, would help his condition greatly, though he can’t use it because it is illegal.
Ryan Hollingsworth, also a chronic pain sufferer, said the city has a special tie to marijuana’s illegalization. Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics who led a campaign against marijuana, resided in Altoona for many years, he said.
“We’ve been lied to for too long,” Hollingsworth said of the negative stigmas placed on the drug. “It’s just a matter of getting people out and getting people talking.”

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