Pennsylvania Could Be Next State To Legalize Recreational Cannabis

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The next state to legalize marijuana for adults may well be Pennsylvania, where two top state lawmakers introduced a bipartisan legalization bill on Wednesday.

Past proposals to legalize in the state have stalled in the Republican-controlled state legislature. This latest proposal, introduced by state senators Shari Street (D-Philadelphia) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), is bipartisan.

It would legalize adult-use cannabis for adults 21 and over, decriminalize a yet-to-be-determined amount of marijuana, and could raise as much as $1 billion in tax revenue for the state, the pair said in a statement.

If passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf—who has repeatedly said that legalizing marijuana is a top priority—the bill would also expunge past non-violent marijuana convictions, set aside business licenses for minorities and victims of the drug war, and allow “limited home grow” for medical-marijuana patients.

Mindful that legalization in other states has created de-facto segregation, with corporate cannabis empires dominated by white people, Pennsylvania’s proposal would make the state’s industry “the most diverse and inclusive in the country while enabling those who have been harmed by prohibition to seal their records and rebuild their lives,” Street said in a statement.

“As the marijuana movement reaches Pennsylvania, legalization must be done the right way,” Laughlin added. “This bill ensures a legalized market in the Commonwealth is implemented safely and responsibly, with a thoughtful approach that provides opportunities to medical and recreational consumers, farmers, and small, medium and minority-owned businesses.”

Already inevitable, legalization is looking increasingly imminent in the Keystone State, which would instantly become the biggest adult-use market on the East Coast.

And legalization would have consequences in future presidential elections, as Pennsylvania would become the first key swing state to legalize adult-use cannabis.

While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also pushing legalization in his state—something he’s proposed before without success—cannabis may have more political momentum in Pennsylvania than anywhere else.

Polling repeatedly shows that 60 percent or more of likely voters in the state support legalization.

Both Wolf, the governor, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman support legalization, and have been pushing state lawmakers to take swift and decisive action on legalization since last year.

Fetterman, who is a candidate for US Senate and has become something of a folk hero for his outspoken media interviews and workwear fashion choices, flies a cannabis-leaf flag on the balcony of his office at the state capitol.

And Wolf has made legalization one of his top priorities for the state legislature for 2021, as he said during a recent press conference.

And Pennsylvania already has a thriving medical cannabis market and a burgeoning hemp industry. Sales of medical marijuana were projected to reach $500 million in 2020, and could double to $1 billion by 2023, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

Past legalization efforts have become repeatedly stalled in the state General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans. Last fall, Republican leadership in both the state Senate and the House refused to schedule hearings on several proposals. And Republicans still hold a majority in both houses of the state Legislature.

That may change now that neighboring New Jersey has finally approved a framework for a commercial adult-use cannabis industry.

And given marijuana’s popularity in a state narrowly won by President Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the November presidential elections, Republicans may have no choice but to give legalization a vote, or suffer bipartisan consequences.