Big pharma backs both sides in Pennsylvania marijuana debate

Posted on June 22, 2015

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Written by Mark Walters, Evening Sun | Jun 22, 2015 1:15 PM

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The Medical Cannabis Act, Senate Bill 3, was referred to the Health Committee last month. Introduced in January by Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, the bill cleared the Senate by a 40-7 vote last month.

(Harrisburg) — A Pennsylvania representative who has said he won’t bring a medical marijuana bill up for a vote has become a target of marijuana activists on social media who say his opposition is being purchased by pharmaceutical companies.

But state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga County, who chairs the House Health Committee, said in an email that he has never spoken with a pharmaceutical company about marijuana.

The Medical Cannabis Act, Senate Bill 3, was referred to the Health Committee last month. Introduced in January by Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, the bill cleared the Senate by a 40-7 vote last month.

Baker’s campaign received $3,000 from political action committees for pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Merck and AstraZeneca in 2014. In 2012, AstraZeneca gave Baker’s campaign $5,000. The same committees, however, paid collectively more money to state lawmakers who voted for S.B. 3, according to the committees’ online reports.

A Facebook group called "Rep Matt Baker Pennsylvania Traitor" had 943 likes as of June 18 and contains Internet memes that lambast the politician for receiving money from pharmaceutical companies and their political action committees.

"This page is about raising awareness about PA Rep Matt Baker, his ties to the pharmaceutical companies that pay for his campaigns, who he answers to," according to the group. One post by the group states that Baker received nearly $23,000 from one company in one year.

Questions surrounding his stance on medical marijuana being purchased are false accusations and a propaganda tactic of radical marijuana activists, Baker wrote in his email.

"I have always opposed legalizing marijuana as it is a federally-scheduled illegal drug as defined by federal law that has no medical value," said Baker, who has served in the House since 1993.

Friends of Rich Alloway, a campaign group for Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Chambersburg, received $1,500 from Merck in 2014, according to the committee’s website. Alloway voted in favor of S.B. 3.

"Candidates for public office receive contributions from political action committees and individuals for a variety of reasons," Alloway wrote in an email. "I believe that those who choose to donate to my campaign do so because they believe in me and the principles that I fight for in Harrisburg."

When a person or group finds themselves disagreeing with a legislator’s position, they look for justification, Alloway explained in his email. That search, he said, can result in accusing a donor of influencing the legislator’s decision, even though the legislator may simply disagree with a constituent on a particular issue.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, said he has never felt Baker was bought by the pharmaceutical industry. While he thinks it is misguided, Leach said he believes Baker’s opposition to medical marijuana is sincere.

Leach, who voted for S.B. 3, received $250 from Pfizer in 2014. The pharmaceutical company gave $1,000 to Baker last year, while also paying nearly $9,000 to senators who voted in favor of S.B. 3.

Contact Mark Walters at 717-771-2032.

Medical marijuana opponent receives threats at Capitol office

In addition to social media attacks, state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga County, has also become the subject of threats as a result of his opposition to medical marijuana legislation in the committee he chairs.

One uniformed officer had to be present in Baker’s office at the Capitol’s Ryan Building on June 1 during a scheduled medical marijuana rally, said Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the state’s Department of General Services, which oversees the Capitol Police.

Capitol Police received a call from someone who works in Baker’s office, expressing safety concerns, said Thompson, who was not able to provide further details on the threat. A secretary at Baker’s Harrisburg office could not comment on the threat, deferring to Baker.

Baker said he receives daily phone calls and emails expressing animus and vitriol over his opposition to legalizing marijuana. Verbal and written threats are being closely examined as well as occasional efforts by some that he said could be viewed as harassment and stalking.

Public policy should have a respectful level of communication and civility, Baker said.

"Attempts to bully and intimidate anyone in public service that has ideological differences of opinion only creates a disservice to the bedrock principles of democracy, good government and the spirit of civility," Baker wrote in his email.

Contact Mark Walters at 717-771-2032.

About the political contributions

Pfizer’s political action committee paid $2.67 million to state and federal candidates nationwide from January 2013 to December 2014.

"We contribute to politicians on both sides of the aisle who deal with decisions important to our company, including innovation and access to medicines. We support government officials and candidates who work toward preserving and furthering innovation and expanding access to medicines; those are the two guiding principles for us in considering political donations."

— Sharon Castillo, media relations for Pfizer

Merck paid $103,250 to state and federal political campaigns in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to its political contributions report.

Merck is committed to participating constructively and responsibly in the political process, which includes providing support through the nonpartisan Merck political action committee (PAC). The PAC supports legislators from both major parties who understand and appreciate the work we do to discover and develop medicines and to make them available to the patients who need them.

— Lainie Keller, director of Merck’s global communications

Political contributions by candidates’ votes on Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Act

Pfizer contributions to Senators from Jan. 2013 to Dec. 2014

Yeas

Sen. Jacob Corman, R, $2,000

Sen. Jay Costa, D, $1,000

Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D, $1,850

Sen. Vincent Hughes, D, $1,000

Sen. Shirley Kitchen, D, $500

Sen. Daylin Leach, D, $250

Sen. Robert Mensch, R, $1,000

Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R, $2,000

Sen. John Rafferty, R $1,000

Sen. Joseph Scarnati, R, $2,000

Sen. Matthew Smith, D, $1,000

Sen. Kim Ward, R, $1,000

Sen. Donald White, R, $1,000

Sen. Rob Teplitz, D, $250

Nays

Sen. Patricia Vance, R, $1,000

Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R, $250

No vote

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R, $500

Pfizer gave $1,000 to Rep. Matt Baker in 2014

Merck contributions to pa Senators Jan. to Dec. 2014

Yeas

Costa for State Senate $1,000

Friends of Andy Dinniman $1,500

Citizens for Hughes $1,650

Friends of Bob Mensch Committee $1,500

Friends of Chuck McIlhinney $1,000

Friends of Dominic Pileggi $5,000

Friends of Rich Alloway $1,500

Friends of Jake Corman $1,500

Friends of Don White $1,200

Friends of John Gordner $1,500

Rafferty for Senate $1,500

Tomlinson for State Senate $1,000

Nays

Elisabeth Baker for Senate $1,000

Voters to Elect Vance $2,500

No vote

Citizens for Browne $500

Citizens for Greenleaf $1,000

Merck gave Citizens to Elect Matt Baker $1,500 in 2014

AstraZeneca contributions to Senators for 2012

Yeas

Friends of Chuck McIlhinney $2,000

Jay Costa Jr. for State Senate $2,000

Friends of Jake Corman $3,000

Friends of Joseph Scarnati $5,000

Friends of Dominic Pileggi $5,000

Nays

Voters to Elect Patricia Vance $3,000

AstraZeneca gave $3,000 to People to Elect Matt Baker in 2012

More…

Medical marijuana: Treatment, oil could reduce kids’ epileptic seizures, but it remains illegal in Pa.

Medical marijuana bill clears Pa. Senate

Gov. Tom Wolf meets with parents who want medical marijuana legalized for their kids

Montel Williams lobbying for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania


This article comes to us through a partnership between the Evening Sun and WITF.

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Posted in: CANNABIS, LATEST, POLITICS