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POINT: The Dangers of Legal Marijuana Outweigh the Benefits

For an alternate point of view, see: COUNTERPOINT: PA Should Join Neighboring States to Legalize Marijuana 

When I was in high school 20 years ago, marijuana use was generally confined to buying dime bags of dry flower that had a THC potency in the single digits (THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana that gives the high). No one was vaping marijuana because vaping wasn’t around yet.

Today, not only has marijuana flower been industrialized to produce upwards of 30 percent THC and more, but you have a host of new delivery mechanisms – including vapes that come in a kids’ menu of flavors like Blueberry Cookies and Orange Crush – that can range between 80-90 percent THC and higher.

No longer are teachers and educators just finding a few students smoking weed under the football field bleachers but are now confronting students vaping marijuana in school, not only in bathrooms but right in the classroom as well, with devices disguised as USB drives and even yellow highlighters.

We have never experienced a time in history when the potency strength of manufactured marijuana is as high and in such a diverse set of products as it is today, and children and young adults are using today’s marijuana at record rates. Both facts are colliding, and the impact of this wreckage is made significantly worse by a state government that encourages its recreational use through legalization.

Earlier this year, researchers at Temple University released a study finding that more children and young adults use marijuana because of states legalizing its recreational use, particularly due to the lowering of perceived harm by making it legal. It is a logical conclusion: if you increase access, you increase use.

We know that using today’s industrialized marijuana with upwards of 99 percent THC can have damaging health consequences, including marijuana use disorder (MUD), the medical term for addiction; risks that increase exponentially for those using in their mid-20’s or earlier as it impacts their developing brain.

“The risk of developing marijuana use disorder is stronger in people who start using marijuana during youth or adolescence,” states the CDC. And according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), addiction rates nearly double when you start using before age 18.

Addiction to marijuana? Yes, science has proven today’s marijuana can absolutely be addictive, and rates are steadily increasing. Yet there are some Pennsylvania state lawmakers who dismiss the addictive traits of marijuana. State Representative Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) has gone so far as to claim not only that marijuana is not dangerous or addictive but that the only thing at risk with legalizing marijuana for recreational use is potato chips and Fritos – alluding to getting “the munchies” after use.

Not only is this joke insulting to families who have been directly impacted by the harms of marijuana use, but it denies the existing science and evidence that are contrary to those archaic claims. There’s a reason why every major medical association is opposed to legalizing recreational use.

We know that there has been a significant change in potency strength in the last decade. In 2014, Washington State’s total market of manufactured marijuana extracts was 9 percent. Today, extracts are now 35 percent of the market. This growth has led to calls for potency caps.

“Twenty years ago, prescription opioids were seen as a breakthrough in pain relief,” writes The Seattle Times Editorial Board. “We understand now the human costs of addiction and dysfunction. This state should not make the same mistake with high-potency marijuana.”

We also know that, in states like Colorado, the commercialized sale of marijuana – backed by Big Tobacco and their predatory history of targeting teens for addiction – has led to more marijuana shops than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. This market proliferation is also reflective in the use of social media and billboards advertising these harmful products.

Additional harms caused by marijuana legalization include an increase in DUIs and drugged driving fatalities. Evidence from the two states who started experimenting with marijuana legalization for recreational use, Colorado and Washington State, both witnessed an increase in motor vehicle accidents and fatalities.

A 19-year old woman from Pennsylvania was recently charged with involuntary manslaughter and DUI after having marijuana in her system when she was driving and killed a motorcyclist and father of three. If we don’t want an increase in these types of scenarios, then we should listen to law enforcement and safety associations like AAA and oppose marijuana legalization for recreational use.

When voters are given options of marijuana policy that are not just a one-size-fits-all model for recreational use, options that include ways to address the criminal justice system, voters often do not favor full recreational sales.

Here in Pennsylvania, there are options available to our state lawmakers to improve our medical marijuana program. The question is who do we help: an addiction-for-profit industry or our children? Will we protect public health and safety or subject communities to the harms caused by commercializing manufactured marijuana?

I know my choice.


Upper Darby Mayor: I Am Prepared to Face Consequences for DUI

In a statement released Monday, Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer apologized for behavior that resulted in DUI charges against her.

Keffer was in a traffic accident in Upper Chichester Thursday evening after reportedly attending a Democratic fundraiser. She told police she’d had three drinks before getting behind the wheel.

In her statement Monday, Keffer said that she is “cooperating fully” with authorities and is “prepared to face the consequences of my action.”

“I will be forever grateful that no one was physically harmed in this incident. I apologize to my family, my staff, and my constituents for this severe error in judgment. I realize that this may be hard for some to forgive, but I ask that you look at my nine-plus years of
public service and not just this one terrible decision.”

She added, “I am seeking professional treatment for alcohol addiction. An estimated 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than 10 percent receive treatment. I hope others can learn from my experience and seek the help they need.”

Keffer also blamed “the stress of the constant personal attacks” and said that her treatment plan includes finding healthy ways to “handle these stressors so that I can continue to fulfill my promise to reform, reinvest, and revitalize Upper Darby.”

She said that Acting Co-Chief Administrative Officers Alison Dobbins and Rita LaRue would oversee township government operations.

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Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer Arrested for DUI

Mayor Barbarann Keffer of Upper Darby was booked on DUI charges following a Thursday night traffic stop in Upper Chichester Township.

According to court documents, Keffer appeared to be drunk, got into a crash, and ultimately refused a blood test.

Charging documents allege Keffer was alone in the car while traveling westbound on Route 322 near Chelsea Parkway when an officer behind her noticed her Toyota Corolla had a flat tire on the passenger side, a broken headlight, damage to its front bumper, and was swerving into coming traffic.

The officer pulled Keffer over after 9 p.m. and smelled alcohol. According to an Upper Chichester officer’s written affidavit, Keffer also had “glassy bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and unstable balance.”

Keffer admitted to having three drinks, failed a roadside sobriety test, and then refused to continue with the test as the officer determined she was not capable of driving.

She was placed in custody and taken to the Upper Chichester Police Department, where she allegedly refused to be photographed and fingerprinted. Police say she was not hostile.

As the investigation continued, police reported township surveillance cameras revealed her vehicle was not damaged at one point during her travels.

However, police believe she hit a guardrail and found part of that guardrail damaged on the 700 block of Meetinghouse Road. Multiple reports say Keffer was returning from a Democratic fundraiser in the township that night.

While Keffer was released from custody later that night, Upper Darby officials released a statement on Friday afternoon on Keffer’s behalf.

“Last evening, Mayor Barbarann Keffer was involved in a traffic incident and plans to cooperate fully with local authorities in Upper Chichester. Mayor Keffer was arrested on suspicion of DUI and released. Mayor Keffer and her family request privacy as they deal with the personal aspects of this incident, and she will offer additional comment soon.”

Former GOP councilman and current Upper Darby resident Patrick Spellman said the mayor could be forced to resign if the council finds moral wickedness, defined as an act that blatantly violates the point of view of the accepted standard of the community.

“Obviously due process plays out, but early indication reveals so much bad behavior concerning this incident that she shouldn’t be holding public office at this time,” Spellman told Action News.

“Last night, Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer once again displayed poor judgment, this time choosing to drive a vehicle while intoxicated endangering herself and others, offering another example of why she should not lead our largest municipality,” said Frank Agovino, chair of the Delaware County Republican Committee on Friday. “These complex times require steady leadership and instead the Upper Darby government has been plagued with dysfunction, scandal, financial mismanagement, and a skyrocketing crime rate.”

“While I am sensitive to those that make mistakes or suffer from addiction, Mayor Keffer should recognize based on recent events that remaining as mayor is not in the best interest of Upper Darby Township,” Agovino added.

The news of Keffer’s arrest comes right after the ongoing controversy within the township as Chief Administrative Officer Vincent Rongione stepped down.

“I can assure you that the government is operating, as usual, to serve the businesses, residents, and visitors of Upper Darby, with our administrative leadership and their team members focused on providing municipal services, activities, and programs to the community,” Alison Dobbins, Upper Darby Township deputy chief administrative officer said in a statement.

The next council meeting is set for Wednesday, February 1. Keffer is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on March 1.

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Parents of DUI Victim Hope Deana’s Law Will Protect Others

Deana Eckman, 45, was a wife, a daughter, and an animal lover when a man driving while under the influence crashed into her car on February 16, 2019. The impact killed her.

The head-on crash that claimed Eckman’s life was also David Strowhouer’s sixth drunk driving arrest. Previously, a judge had permitted his sentences to run concurrently for his prior convictions. That was why he was not in jail that night but traveling on a Delaware County road, careening across the yellow line in a borrowed pickup truck.

Now Deana’s name is on a Pennsylvania law requiring drunk drivers to serve consecutive sentences after their third conviction.

Her parents, Roseann and Richard DeRosa, joined Rep. Chris Quinn, (R-Media) at a press conference Friday to announce Gov. Tom Wolf had signed the bill into law. It takes effect in 120 days.

Deana DeRosa Eckman

Quinn’s legislation, Act 59 of 2022, also increases prison sentences for offenders. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/MontgomeryBerks).

“She was a vibrant young woman and beloved by a wide circle of family and friends,” said Quinn. “Her killer had a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit and he robbed Deana of decades of life.”

The legislation previously failed to pass, but Quinn shepherded it again through the legislative process and it was overwhelmingly approved by large bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate.

Quinn credited Sen. John Kane (D-Delaware/Chester) who, along with former Sen. Tom Killian, teamed up with Mensch to help guide the bill through the Senate. Quinn also thanked Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford) for his work on the bill. Williams is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“Seeing your daughter’s name on a piece of legislation is never a good sign,” said Richard DeRosa. “It means that something terrible has happened and, in our case, that’s certainly true. Deana’s Law will go a long way to correct some of the judicial errors that permitted David Strowhouer to be on the street to kill after five previous DUIs. We anticipate and sincerely hope that this law will save lives and prevent multitudes of injuries.”

“There are no words strong enough to describe the pain of outliving your child,” said Roseann DeRosa. “It’s an out-of-order process.  Deana’s death left a wound in our lives that will never fully heal. Deana’s tragic and senseless death was a result of a failure of our criminal justice system.

“Our passion for Deana’s Law is to prevent this from happening to other families,” she said. “And bring awareness to the many people who drive impaired. Every DUI is a potential homicide,” she added.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who also supported the push for Deanna’s Law, praised the DeRosas for trying “to turn their personal tragedy, that as a parent I can’t imagine what it feels like. They’re trying to turn that personal tragedy into something positive for other families. And they’ve done it by passing this law, thanks to Chris Quinn’s help and my good friend Sen. John Kane, who gave a really amazing speech on the Senate floor.

Stollsteimer noted that, in the era of ride-share services like Uber and Lyft, there is no excuse for driving while impaired. And certainly not multiple times.

“Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimate that 40 percent of DUI fatalities on our roads in America are caused by people with multiple DUI convictions,” said Stollsteimer. “They should never be allowed back on the road, and thanks for this legislation some of them will not be.”

Quinn also thanked the many stakeholders who participated in crafting Deana’s Law, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, MADD, the Pennsylvania DUI Association, Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, and Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.

Strawhouer, 33, was convicted last year and sentenced to 24 to 51 years in prison for killing Eckman in the DUI homicide.

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