With their budgets taking a beating from the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, state leaders may turn to cannabis legalization to provide help. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf did just that in September, asking lawmakers to make recreational marijuana legal in Pennsylvania.
If such a move happens, it would make Pennsylvania only the second state to legalize marijuana by a vote of lawmakers. Illinois did so in 2019, with legal sales beginning in 2020. Those sales have been making records all year.
Wolf, who has backed marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania in the past, did so again because he said the need had become greater.
“Now more than ever, we see a desperate need for the economic boost cannabis legalization can provide,” Wolf said in a news conference. “So, today I am proposing we legalize adult-use cannabis here in Pennsylvania with a portion of the revenue going toward existing small business grants.”
Lt. Gov. Fetterman Joins the Call For Legalization
Both Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said legal marijuana in Pennsylvania could funnel hundreds of millions into the state treasury. They pointed to the $318 million made by Washington state in marijuana taxes and fees in 2018, or the $266 million collected by Colorado.
Fetterman, at the same news conference, said that Pennsylvania could rake in even more money once a program had been up and running long enough.
Both also emphasized that money from marijuana taxes and fees would fund programs that benefit communities of color that historically paid the biggest price during the War on Drugs.
“If you go over the span of decades we are talking nearly a quarter of a million Pennsylvanians that now have some affiliation with the criminal justice system for nothing more than consuming a plant that’s actually legal in 12 jurisdictions across this country,” Fetterman said.
The GOP Is Expected to Block the Plan
Most of those who want marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania know they face an uphill battle if the effort runs through the state legislature. That’s because the Republican party controls both houses and have opposed making recreational marijuana legal.
Not long after the news conference, Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus spokesperson Jason Gottesman let it be known that stance wasn’t about to change. He not only belittled the idea, but took the chance to compare cannabis with the opioid crisis.
“Calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana is another inconsistency and contradiction from this governor who just recently renewed a disaster declaration for a drug overdose crisis that continues to devastate and destroy Pennsylvania’s families,” he said in a statement.
If the current financial crisis does not change the mind of some Republicans, Pennsylvania may have to follow the course set by most other states and try to get legalization through a vote of the people.