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Pennsylvania cannabis legalization gains an unlikely ally

Pennsylvania cannabis legalization gains an unlikely ally

Pennsylvania cannabis legalization gains support from ex-law enforcement Senator

With renewed efforts in the Pennsylvania cannabis legalization fight, the movement has gained an unlikely ally; a former U.S. marshal who spent years fighting the drug war.

Republican Senator Mike Regan is working on new legislation to legalize Pennsylvania cannabis. The legislation would legalize cannabis for recreational use and permit adults age 21 and older to legally purchase and possess a “personal amount” of cannabis. Regan thinks that amount will most likely be an ounce.

“I think it’s inevitable,” Regan said. “It’s common sense to think we’re going to do it at some time and it should be done smart.”

While still a work in progress, Regan sent a memo to his fellow lawmakers stating, “As chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and a former member of law enforcement, rather than sit idly by and allow others to shape the legislation, I am stepping up to be a leader on the issue, as I did on medical marijuana.”

This is a much different approach compared to other Republicans in the state who are fighting legalization. Instead of joining the resistance against Pennsylvania cannabis legalization, Regan is attempting to take charge so Republicans can truly have a say in what happens.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has expressed his support for broad cannabis legalization on numerous occasions. Along with Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a staunch advocate for cannabis legalization, the two believe creating a legal cannabis marketplace can generate more money for the state to address social justice issues, mainly the convictions and criminal records people get for consuming or possessing cannabis.

Regan used the examples of New York and New Jersey, two neighboring states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use as reasoning for legalizing Pennsylvania cannabis. “We will soon experience border bleed with Pennsylvanians contributing to the tax base of those states and helping to pay for their roads and bridges, while the commonwealth deals with the implications of purchases brought across state lines without the revenue or resources in our legal system to address them,” Regan said in his memo.

However Regan isn’t the first Republican in Pennsylvania to push forward recreational cannabis legislation. Senator Dan Laughlin (R) joined Democrat legislators in pushing for cannabis legalization in February of 2021.

Additionally, two Democrat House Representatives, Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, introduced a bill to legalize Pennsylvania cannabis just last week. However the remaining Republicans in the legislature continue to express their disapproval of broad cannabis legalization in the Keystone State.

Many Republicans have said that the state should continue to focus on medical cannabis only, and that recreational cannabis legalization is not a priority for them. Their reasoning is that medical cannabis has yet to prove successful enough to warrant full blown legalization. However, medical marijuana sales in Pennsylvania topped more than $900 million over one year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and could soon see $3 billion in total sales with just a few operating years under its belt.

Pennsylvania is outpacing other medical marijuana states by huge margins, showing that interest in Pennsylvania is at an all time high. Regan estimates that recreational cannabis could generate an additional $1 billion a year in revenue. That revenue could be used to support law enforcement, fight gun violence, provide after school programs for disadvantaged youth and free up motor license funds that are currently being used to fund state police to help fund road and bridge improvements instead.

The bill would establish a regulatory control board, remove penalties for possession and use by adults, allow the legal purchase of firearms regardless of cannabis use, among many other features.

As an ex-law enforcement officer, Regan is running against the grain in his efforts that helped shape the medical marijuana legislation in the state, as well as his new support for recreational cannabis.

“As a former United States marshal, I had the opportunity to work in federal law enforcement at the height of the drug war, so I know the seriousness of drug use,” he said in his memo. ”But I am also cognizant that there has been a significant decline in arrests and prosecutions for personal use amounts of marijuana in recent years. Our law enforcement agencies and justice system do not have the manpower or time to handle these minor marijuana offenses that clog our courts and produce little return.”

Instead, Regan wants law enforcement to focus more on the large scale drug importers that deal heroin and fentanyl, which fuel the massive opioid crisis that has been impacting Pennsylvania for years, killing thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania Cannabis Legalization Bill Introduced

Pennsylvania Cannabis Legalization Bill Introduced

Pennsylvania cannabis legalization bill introduced by democrat Jake Wheatley

Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) has introduced a new bill that would legalize Pennsylvania cannabis for adult use. Previous bills have been shot down by the state legislature, but HB 2050 has some revisions that Wheatley is hopeful will help it get through to the Governor’s desk.

Governor Tom Wolf has expressed numerous times his support for broader Pennsylvania cannabis legalization, however the Republican led state legislature has rejected every attempt so far.

Pennsylvania House Bill 2050

House Bill 2050 creates a dynamic permitting structure for growers, processors and dispensaries, allowing any size company to enter the legal cannabis market. This includes lowering initial application and permit fees to alleviate financial barriers. Renewal fees will be based on gross revenue; the higher a company’s gross revenue the higher their renewal fee, which is the fairest way to do it.

Among other things, my bill provides for the Commonwealth Reinvestment Fund (CRF). Specifically, the CRF will fund the following initiatives;

  • Minority and Women Grant Program to help disadvantaged populations benefit from this new industry,
  • Student Loan Reimbursement Program,
  • Mixed Income Housing Program,
  • After-School Programs,
  • And a public information campaign to educate the public on adult-use cannabis

Under this legislation, a wholesale tax of 10% will be levied on business to business transactions. Growers and processors who partner with an existing Pennsylvania Farm will not be required to pay the wholesale tax. Consumers will see an excise tax (in addition to sales tax) that will start at 6% for the first two years, 12% for years three and four, and then 19% for each year after.

Wheatley’s reasoning for pushing HB 2050 is similar to that of legislators in other states that have moved forward with cannabis legalization. The war on drugs has negatively impacted minority communities that most, and Pennsylvania cannabis legalization would give priority to those most disproportionally affected.

The bill also includes a “clean slate” provision that would help those charged with crimes under the Controlled Substances Act related to cannabis lessen or even wipe prior convictions. In a press conference Tuesday, legislators also used the example of 2019’s vape epidemic — a controversy that impacted over 2,000 consumers — as a reason for legalizing, stating that keeping cannabis illegal only helps the illicit market thrive.

The Pennsylvania state legislature has yet to hold a vote on HB 2050. If passed, Pennsylvania would join 16 other states that have legalized adult-use recreational cannabis.

Pa. cannabis legalization remains unlikely as neighboring states go for it

Pa. cannabis legalization remains unlikely as neighboring states go for it

Pennsylvania cannabis legalization

New Jersey. New York. Virginia.

One by one, Pennsylvania’s neighbors are moving to legalize recreational cannabis for adults. There’s majority support for doing the same thing here: A March poll from Franklin & Marshall College showed 59% support among registered voters for legalization.

And after years of saying he wouldn’t endorse such a move, Gov. Tom Wolf changed his position in 2019 and has committed to signing a bill if it reaches his desk.

But in order for that to happen, the idea would need to gain backing among the Republican lawmakers who control both the state House and Senate.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) opposed medical cannabis when it passed in 2016 and said in 2019 that legalization wasn’t the “right move in helping the thousands of Pennsylvanians who are battling drug addiction.”

More recently Cutler’s chief of staff told PennLive it wasn’t a priority, as the state continued to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, while a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R,., Centre) told the York Daily Record in February there isn’t support within the caucus.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) in 2018 called the idea “reckless and irresponsible,” though last fall he signaled the chamber was open to vetting a proposal — but not at that time.

Democrats in the chamber, as they have in past sessions, are still pushing for legalization, but with one major difference this spring — a Republican sponsor.

That lawmaker is Sen. Dan Laughlin of Erie County. When asked by Spotlight PA why he thinks Pennsylvania hasn’t moved toward legalization, he said many of his colleagues represent districts that don’t support recreational cannabis.

“So, you know, I don’t hold it against any fellow Republicans for not wanting to just jump out of the gate and co-sponsor the bill, because, for the most part, I think they’re trying to represent their districts,” Laughlin said.

report based on observations and anecdotes from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s 2019 listening tour of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties found that people were concerned about “an increase of people driving under the influence.” One working paper by a group of economists found that fatal crashes involving a driver who tested positive for THC had increased nationwide but did not appear to be related to legalization.

People, according to Fetterman’s report, were also concerned about “cannabis acting as a ‘gateway’ drug.” That’s a long-standing anxiety and complex topic. While some people who use cannabis may also use other drugs, there isn’t definitive proof that cannabis is the cause.

The issue is simple to Tsehaitu Abye, a cannabis entrepreneur and founder of Philadelphia’s Black Dragon Breakfast Club, a cannabis marketing firm: Once the financial scales tip in favor of legalization — rather than the industries that oppose it — it will happen.

Bipartisan Pennsylvania cannabis legalization bill emerges from Senate

Bipartisan Pennsylvania cannabis legalization bill emerges from Senate

Bipartisan Pennsylvania cannabis legalization bill has been introduced

A bipartisan duo of senators introduced a measure Wednesday to legalize adult use cannabis in Pennsylvania.

It’s the first time a Republican member of the chamber has cosponsored the proposal – typically endorsed solely by Democrats, including Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

“That’s kind of the elephant in the room, if you will,” said Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie. “I believe in solving problems, and adult use cannabis is no more harmful than liquor. I’m not afraid to run a bill that doesn’t fit our party’s stereotype.”

In addition to regulating and taxing the drug for public consumption, Laughlin and co-sponsor Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said their proposal includes a provision that would erase nonviolent cannabis convictions and decriminalizes the drug “up to a certain point” – an important step forward for social justice.

“Ordinary folks of color know they are more likely to get prosecuted for doing this,” Street said. “And yeah, it is making history if people won’t [be prosecuted] anymore.”

An analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that cannabis arrests account for more than half of all drug-related arrests in the county. Eight in 10 of the 8.2 million arrests studied between 2001 and 2010 were for possession of small amounts. Black users are also nearly four times more likely than white users to be arrested for cannabis, the ACLU said.

“This has been a 180 change in opinion for me,” Laughlin said. “I’m not a fan of the product. I don’t use it. I don’t think it’s great if people use marijuana. I know that seems a little odd … [but] I’ve realized some of the social damage we’ve done to communities of color over these minor offenses, and that really got my attention.”

Laughlin also said testimony from the Independent Fiscal Office last week that estimated tax revenues from cannabis sales could approach $1 billion further piqued his interest. 

“The final straw was a conversation I had with one of my kids … he told me he could have a bag of weed delivered to the house in under an hour and that’s better service than Amazon,” he said. “I realize anyone in Pennsylvania that wants to smoke marijuana is probably already doing it, so regulating it is the responsible thing to do.”

Pennsylvania governor makes budget pitch for legal cannabis in 2021

Pennsylvania governor makes budget pitch for legal cannabis in 2021

Pennsylvania cannabis legalization could happen in 2021

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, as expected, has made legalizing recreational cannabis one of his administration’s top legislative priorities this year.

Wolf highlighted recreational marijuana in his budget proposal Wednesday and mentioned the urgency given adult-use legalization in neighboring New Jersey and the legalization push in New York.

“Now as our neighbors move toward legalizing recreational marijuana, we cannot afford to be left behind,” Wolf said in a news release laying out his legislative plan.

The plan didn’t provide licensing details.

But it did note that part of the revenue generated from legalization would be used for grants to support historically disadvantaged small businesses.

Marijuana Business Daily projects that an adult-use market in Pennsylvania would generate $800 million in sales in the program’s first full year and $1.8 billion in annual sales by the fourth year.

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Senate is seen as the biggest obstacle to legalization.

Wolf, a Democrat, emphasized the issue’s bipartisan support among residents and the bipartisan support that occurred when Pennsylvania lawmakers legalized medical cannabis in 2016.

Pennsylvania’s MMJ market, by most accounts, has been a success since sales began in 2018, which could help persuade lawmakers to pass a recreational marijuana program.