Marijuana has been in the decriminalization process since 1973 with many states over the years passing laws to either authorize the use of marijuana or prohibit it. It is time to stop treating marijuana like a deadly drug, when science and public opinion agree that it is relatively safe for adult recreational and medical use. With recreational and medical marijuana on the verge of nationwide legalization, marijuana growers and dispensaries and grow facilities popping up everywhere.
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A bill to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania through a state-run model was filed on Monday, days after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced that he now supports legalization.
Rep. David Delloso (D) introduced the legislation, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase cannabis through a state stores system run by the Liquor Control Board.
“In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes and individual freedom, the people of this Commonwealth find and declare that the use of cannabis should be legal for individuals who are at least 21 years of age and should be taxed,” the bill text states.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 19 percent, and all of that revenue would go toward the state general fund. The bill would also create a distinct regulatory scheme for industrial hemp.
Interestingly, the legislation also contemplates the possibility of allowing cannabis imports from other states or countries—something that’s strictly prohibited under current federal law. It would also prohibit regulators from importing marijuana that is produced somewhere that doesn’t accept exports from Pennsylvania.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed a bill in June that would also provide for cannabis imports and exports across state lines, but it specifies it would only be effective if there was a change in federal policy. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed legislation in Congress that same month to provide a pathway for such transactions, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for any hearings or votes.
In a co sponsorship memo for the Pennsylvania bill that was first circulated in June, Delloso emphasized the harms of marijuana criminalization for individuals caught up in the drug war as well as the economic toll of enforcing prohibition. Meanwhile, implementing a legal cannabis market stands to generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs, he said.
“However, permitting private companies to sell cannabis in Pennsylvania could allow large corporations to take over the cannabis industry, putting profits before the well-being of our communities,” he wrote. “For these reasons, my legislation will legalize adult use cannabis through the current state store system in order to ensure the safety and integrity of cannabis sales in Pennsylvania.”
The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. It currently has 23 cosponsors. If passed, the Liquor Control Board would have until July 1, 2020 to “adopt regulations necessary for the implementation of this act.”
While it’s not clear that Wolf will support this particular bill with its state-run distribution model, he has come around on marijuana legalization in general. He previously said that the time wasn’t right for Pennsylvania to legalize cannabis, but last Wednesday held a press conference to announce that he officially backs the policy change.
“We now know the majority of Pennsylvanians are in favor of legalization, and that includes me,” Wolf said. “I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together, especially the criminal justice reforms I am proposing today, which will have an immediately positive influence on thousands of families across Pennsylvania.”
The governor’s announcement followed a months-long statewide listening tour on marijuana policy, headed by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), which found that a strong majority of residents in the state favor legalizing cannabis.
But as this latest bill moves through the legislature, it’s expected to face resistance from House Republican leadership, who reacted to the news of Wolf’s embrace of broad reform by expressing frustration and stating that their caucus “has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana.”
This isn’t the first time that U.S. lawmakers have floated the idea of having a state directly control a legal marijuana market. Similar legislation was filed in New Mexico and passed the House in March, but it later died in the Senate. A governor-appointed commission ultimately declined to recommend such a model for 2020 legislation earlier this month.