Eleven states have legalized marijuana since 2012, nine via ballot initiatives and two legistatively. The most recent state to do so was Illinois in May.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman want Pennsylvania to be the 12th. On September 25, they called for the legalization of recreational cannabis at a press conference at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Wolf commented that he favors "making adult-use regulated marijuana legal," adding:
"This has the potential to affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians, many of whom had their lives shattered by a conviction on an action that most Pennsylvanians do not believe is a crime. Together we can get more Pennsylvanians back to working across the aisle in this buildng."
Both officials are advocating for the state's General Assembly to quickly decriminalize small possession charges and expunge previous convictions like New York did in June.
Fetterman has asked the Board of Pardons to pardon Pennsylvanians with pot and paraphernalia convictions on their records. "I would encourage every Pennsylvanian that has one of these charges to apply for a pardon today," he said.
This all comes on the heels of a recent listening tour of the state's 67 counties conducted by Fetterman. He says 65%-70% of the people he met were for legalization.
The state legislature legalized medical marijuana in 2016. There are currently 61 dispensaries.
But getting the Republican legislature on board with recreational legalization won't be easy. "Our caucus has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana," they countered and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman has previously stated that such an effort would be "reckless and irresponsible."
Senators Daylin Leach and Shazrif Street's Adult-Use Cannabis Bill
Two of the state's most fervant pro-cannabis advocates, Senators Daylin Leach and Sharif Street introduced Senate Bill 350 in March. It would legal adult use. The key elements of the bill are as follows:
• Allow private consumption of cannabis by anyone who is 21 years old or more.
• Allow people to grow up to six cannabis plants in their homes for personal use.
• Automatically expunge previous criminal convictions for cannabis-related offenses and commute sentences resulting from such convictions.
• Allow “micro-growers” to grow cannabis in their homes and sell the cannabis to processors and dispensaries.
• Provide for an uncapped number of state permits that have low barriers to entry for home-growers, micro-growers, growers, processors, dispensaries, deliverers and public consumption lounges, which would be the only public places in which cannabis consumption would be allowed.
• Create a statewide cannabis business incubator that provides free training to Pennsylvanians who want to learn how to start and run a cannabis business.
• Provide state grants and low-interest capital loans to Pennsylvanians who have been harmed by prohibition, who complete the incubator’s training program and who win a competitive application process.
• Require dispensaries to recycle used vape pens and incentivize all permittees to meet stringent environmental standards.
• Allow Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities and their students to grow and process cannabis as part of classes intended to teach students both the science and business of cannabis.
• Preserve Act 16’s medical marijuana protocol, giving current permitees no statutory advantages or disadvantages should they decide to enter the adult-use cannabis marketplace.
• Direct the bulk of the state’s resulting tax revenue to public education via the new fair funding formula, allowing individual school districts to decide how much of their portion to invest in their students and how much of their portion to give back to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief.
Wolf, Fetterman, Leach and Street have their work cut out for them. Can they push legalization, much less decrim, across the finish line?
This article was originally posted on September 27. It was updated on October 7.