HARRISBURG -- With voters in neighboring New Jersey set to vote in November on whether to legalize adult use of marijuana, Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday renewed his call for the General Assembly to act on legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Republicans in the both the state House and Senate once again made it clear they were not interested in doing so.
“Now more than ever, we see a desperate need for the economic boost cannabis legalization can provide. 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,” Wolf said. “Half of these grants would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses, many of which have had difficulties attaining other assistance because of systemic issues.”
The governor said a new marijuana industry would generate revenue and jobs for the state as it tries to emerge from the pandemic’s economic crisis.
Legislation to legalize marijuana has been stalled in committee in the General Assembly, where Republicans hold the majority of both chambers.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said leaders of that chamber do not plan to act on legalizing marijuana in the fall legislative session. The Senate returns to the Capitol next week.
“We have long maintained that state laws should be changed because they are good policy for the people of Pennsylvania – not because of their potential to generate money,” Corman said.
While Corman said lawmakers have no immediate plan to act on marijuana legalization legislation, they’d like the governor to provide more information about how marijuana would be regulated and sold under Wolf’s plan.
Republicans in the state House are no more eager to take up the issue.
“Instead of legalizing drugs as a way to tax and spend on new government programs, the governor should work with the General Assembly to help get Pennsylvanians safely back to work, get our children get the best educational opportunities, and provide the return to normalcy Pennsylvanians long for,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County.
Wolf was joined by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman who conducted a statewide listening tour exploring public sentiment on the prospect of legalizing marijuana.
Fetterman pointed to the looming legalization move in New Jersey as reason for Pennsylvania to act before residents of this state begin crossing the border to get marijuana in the neighboring state.
Fetterman said that allowing adult use of marijuana isn’t just about raising tax revenue, and that it would translate into good public policy.
“We need the revenue, we need the jobs, we need the freedom, we need the criminal justice reform,” Fetterman said.
Wolf, a Democrat, has been calling for the General Assembly to act on legalizing marijuana since Fetterman’s listening tour was concluded last year.
Wolf said that in 2018 the state of Washington brought in $319 million in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana and Colorado got $266 million in tax revenue from the sale of the drug the same year.
“THose are smaller states” than Pennsylvania, Wolf said.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in 2018 estimated that legalizing marijuana would generate close to $600 million a year in tax revenue in Pennsylvania.
There are 11 states, plus the District of Columbia that have legalized adult use of marijuana -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
State Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said that legalizing marijuana would also eliminate the uneven manner in which cannabis laws are enforced.
Black and Hispanic people are “4-5 times more likely to have a law enforcement encounter than white folks” even though the rate of marijuana use is similar regardless of race, he said.