Medical marijuana advocates rally in city

Medical marijuana advocates rally in city

By Sean Sauro    ssauro@altoonamirror.com
Marijuana is slated to take center stage this afternoon in downtown Altoona, where advocates, experts and those interested in receiving information are to gather to discuss the drug’s medical applications. An advocacy group, Pennsylvanians for Safe Access, is scheduled to host an educational medical cannabis rally beginning at 4 p.m. at Heritage Plaza, co-organizer Christy Billett said. It’s important to bring it to our hometowns, Billett, a Huntingdon resident, said of pro-cannabis information. The event is to feature statements from a number of patients and families who have used or are waiting to use marijuana to treat ailments, such as seizures, chronic pain, mental illness and forms of cancer, said Sher Simcisko, a State College-based advocate. Billett, who has been involved with several Harrisburg-based rallies, said she expects more than 100 patients to attend the event. Marijuana, Billett said, is often preferred to opiate-based medications, which can sometimes lead to addiction. Simcisko said she has both occasional seizures and chronic pain, but her impetus to get involved stemmed from what she learned about suffering children. When I found out these kids are having seizures, like a hundred a day, I couldn’t not speak out. I couldn’t not help them. Simcisko said she and other advocates plan to help by spreading information, including fliers, which will cover topics like pro-cannabis legislation and how it came to be illegal. Local medical cannabis advocate, 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, Hollingsworth said. Hollingsworth said he became an advocate after attending pro-cannabis events across the country after his mother died from cancer. People are afraid of (marijuana) because there is a negative stigma out there, he said. We need to legalize. There are many, many people out there right now who could use this. Billett said she invited every legislator within 30 miles of Altoona, and all of them declined to attend. However, that isn’t the norm, she said. Every time I was in Harrisburg, I had at least five legislators standing beside me, she said. In addition to patients, Billett said the group has reached out to medical professionals, though it is unclear if they’ll be in attendance.
A press conference is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., and the event is to end at 7 p.m.
Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.

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