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New Jersey. New York. Virginia.
One by one, Pennsylvania’s neighbors are trying to legalize adult recreational cannabis. There is majority support for doing the same here: A poll by Franklin & Marshall College in March found that 59% of registered voters are in favor of legalization.
And after years of saying that Governor Tom Wolf would not advocate such a move, in 2019 he changed his position and made a pledge to sign a bill when it reaches his desk.
For this to happen, however, the idea would need support from Republican lawmakers, who control both the State House and the Senate.
House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) opposed medical cannabis when it was passed in 2016, saying in 2019 that legalization was not the “right move to help the thousands of Pennsylvanians who oppose the Fight drug addiction ”.
More recently, Cutler’s chief of staff told PennLive that this was not a priority as the state continued to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic while a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R,., Center) was there in February for York Daily Record reported is no support within the caucus.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Center) called the idea “inconsiderate and irresponsible” in 2018, although he signaled last fall that the chamber was open to consider a proposal – but not at this point in time.
Democrats in the chamber are still pushing for legalization, as in previous sessions, but with one big difference this spring – a Republican sponsor.
That lawmaker is Senator Dan Laughlin of Erie County. When asked by Spotlight PA why he believed Pennsylvania had not moved to legalization, he said that many of his colleagues represent districts that do not support recreational cannabis.
“So, you know, I don’t hold it against other Republicans who don’t just jump out the gate and want to co-sponsor the bill because I mostly think they’re trying to represent their districts,” Laughlin said.
A report based on observations and anecdotes by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, based on his 2019 listening tour of the 67 counties of Pennsylvania, found that people are concerned about “an increase in the number of people driving under the influence.” A working paper by a group of economists found that fatal accidents involving a driver who tested positive for THC had increased across the country but did not appear to be related to legalization.
According to Fetterman’s report, people were also concerned about “cannabis acting as a” gateway drug “”. This is a longstanding fear and a complex issue. While some people who use cannabis may also use other drugs, there is no definitive evidence that cannabis is the cause.
The problem is simple for Tsehaitu Abye, a cannabis entrepreneur and founder of the Philadelphia Black Dragon Breakfast Club, a cannabis marketing firm: once the financial scale tilts in favor of legalization rather than industries that oppose it, it will happen.
Laughlin said revenue is at the bottom of my list of good reasons to support legalization, but a significant amount of money is at stake: up to $ 581 million a year, according to a 2018 general auditor report although the conservative Commonwealth Foundation believes that $ 120 million is a more “realistic” estimate.
Even more important is the question of equity. In Pennsylvania, blacks made up 32% of cannabis-related arrests in 2020, but made up only 12% of the state’s population, research by pro-cannabis group NORML shows.
Tauhid Chappell – a cannabis patient, journalist, and founder of the CannAtlantic Cannabis Conference – believes Republican control is the main preventing legalization.
“But we also need a lot more public advocacy, especially from black and brown-run organizations, who all have to hold discussions about justice, access and redress when it comes to legalizing the facility and ensuring that tax revenue is earmarked and invested directly in communities who have done this has been directly harmed by over-policing, disposition and poverty, “Chappell said via email.
“Legislators must go beyond the dollar sign to the reconciliation and harm that has long plagued black and brown communities.”
Laughlin said his bill, which he introduced with Sen. Sharif Street, D., Philadelphia, was written with justice in mind.
“We have gone to great lengths to ensure that small business owners can be involved in the growth, processing and sales,” he said. “Much of this is aimed at helping color communities, people disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs, get into this business.”
The bill is currently awaiting a committee assignment. Once that happens, Laughlin said he and Street plan to hold public hearings. He emphasized that the “public mood” is ultimately the reason why proposals in the legislature no longer make progress.
Abye said she started a public cannabis business to serve as a trusted ambassador and sounding board for people’s concerns and questioning perceptions.
“We need more votes,” she said.
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