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Lock Haven crowd split on issue of marijuana legalization

LOCK HAVEN — About 100 people turned out for Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s listening session on legalizing recreational marijuana on Saturday afternoon at the Sloan Fine Arts Center on the campus of Lock Haven University.

While most of them indicated that they were in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, there were a few who opposed it. Those speaking were asked to keep their comments to 90 seconds to two minutes — although a handful of speakers went over the allotted time.

Among the topics brought up were concerns about marijuana being heavily taxed, it being a gateway drug, the loss of Second Amendment rights, other health issues related to marijuana use and rising crime rates.

The session lasted close to 90 minutes. Fetterman sat on stage with all three Clinton County commissioners and listened to the audience. Fetterman said he was impressed with what Clinton County had to offer.

“I was impressed by the thoughtful nature of the exchange amongst the audience, the personal stories, whether they’re for or against it,” Fetterman said. “I think it was a really important conversation.”

The listening tours have now made stops in 47 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Later Saturday, Fetterman made a stop at the RiverStage Community Theatre in Union County. That will be followed by stops in Bradford County (May 4), Sullivan County (May 5) and Montour County (May 7).

“By close of business on Sunday, we will have gone to 50. We are all over the place,” he said.

Fetterman said that each stop has been unique. Opinions, he said, have varied from county to county.

“I’m pleased that people care about this and are showing up. I’m pleased that people are doing it in a very civil manner. And I’m pleased that we are getting great participation from our local elected leaders across the board,” Fetterman said.

Fetterman said that Clinton County is the first county where all three county commissioners were present.

“That was a first,” Fetterman said matter-of-factly.

In addition to allowing those in attendance the opportunity to speak, Fetterman asked for a show of hands at the end of the session and his staff collected comment cards.

“This is a topic people care about, that they’re passionate about it and they’re ready to have a conversation about it. This is something that I enjoy and I’m glad we are getting to every single part of the state,” Fetterman said.

Shannon Malone was one of those in the audience who spoke. Malone resides in Clinton County, but is a public defender in Centre County.

“I thought it was very interesting to hear different perspectives and that’s important. I heard a lot of people say you can get facts on both sides and that’s definitely true. It’s important to hear opinions and how it affects people’s lives. I hear that every day,” Malone said.

Malone would like to see minor marijuana offenses de-criminalized, she said.

“I know a lot of people come at it from a money perspective, but I come at it from more of a moral perspective. Why are we throwing people in jail and giving people a criminal history? Why have them lose their housing, lose their resources and have it affect the rest of their lives? Just because they’re using marijuana? Lives are being impacted by this when the majority of Americans agree that it should be legalized,” Malone said.

Malone believes legalization could alleviate the strain being put on the prison system.

One of the most impactful moments of the afternoon came from 21-year-old Spring Martin of Loganton, who said that marijuana has helped her immensely. Martin said that she used to struggle with depression and anxiety, but marijuana has alleviated many of those issues.

She got a loud round of applause for having the courage to speak. She said she was afraid to speak publicly, but felt like it had to be done.

“It was really tough. I said to myself ‘do I have to do this?’ And I thought, ‘yeah I do.’ I felt like everybody needed to hear how it has helped me. Nobody seems to care because anxiety isn’t a life-threatening disorder. But it’s important to me,” Martin said.

She said marijuana has helped her through a lot of issues and she is in full support of it being legalized.

“I get horrible anxiety and if I don’t smoke it keeps coming back. My brain is so scattered, but it helps me think through things more thoroughly,” Martin said. “I came here to make a point. This is here to help us.”

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