Wolf on legalizing weed: time for a ‘serious look’

Gov. Tom Wolf said coronavirus cases appear to be plateauing in Pennsylvania.
Reuters

With support from Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has been steadily expanding and growing since taking effect and in 2018 expanded to include selling dry leaf marijuana to patients, which had been highly in demand.

But in nearby Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, tax-revenue hungry legislatures have been moving to legitimize cannibis across-the-board, including recreational marijuana, Washington and Colorado-style.

Massachusetts’ first legal marijuana stores opened in November; Delaware is considering a similar bill; New Jersey just passed legislation, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently pitched legalizing marijuana as a potential new tax source to fund New York City’s cash-starved and underperforming MTA.

“I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana,” Wolf said on Twitter during a social media discussion with the public, in response to a tweet asking his stance on selling recreational marijuana. “More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, and we need to keep learning from their efforts.”

That stance represents an about-face for Wolf, who during an interview on the same subject just a few months ago in August (before winning reelection for governor) said, “I don’t think the citizens of Pennsylvania are ready for it. … I don’t think Pennsylvania’s actually ready for recreational marijuana.”

Realistically, without a significant change in thinking by Pennsylvania’s conservative, Republican-dominated legislature in Harrisburg, marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania is impossible.

Existing proposals to legalize it have stalled in Harrisburg, since state Sen. Daylin Leach’s introduced legislation in 2013 but made zero progress.

With Wolf apparently on-board, it remains to be seen if the tides can be turned for Pennsylvania’s marijuana smokers.

But as is being argued in other East Coast states, advocates have long argued the potential windfall from tax revenues for marijuana could buoy Pennsylvania’s struggling public finances.

Activists have estimated that the illegal sales of marijuana in Pennsylvania may amount to as much as $2 billion a year in untaxed, underground spending, with as many as 85,000 residents who are illegally partaking as “cannabis consumers,” in the new parlance of marijuana reform advocates.

If Pennsylvania’s state legislature was serious about siphoning off even a small percentage of that industry into state funds, it might not even be as difficult as in states like Massachusetts, where new infrastructure for labs, testing, and licensing had to be created.

That’s because Pennsylvania already has an existing state system for the sale of controlled substances – namely liquor – and the union for state stores has come out in support of potentially selling marijuana to customers alongside their liquor, wine and beer.

That idea has already been proposed in existing legislation introduced by state senator Daylin Leach or state rep. Jordan Harris – both of whom have pitched using state stores to sell marijuana.

“We already have stores that control the consumption of a substance in place throughout the Commonwealth, those employees are state employees, they know how to handle it,” rep. Harris previously told Metro. “My theory is, since we already have that structure, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We already have that, we can control it.”

That optimism was echoed by Wendell Young IV, president of UFCW Local 1776, which represents about 3,500 state store workers

“We have a highly-trained staff to handle what is the most abused drug in the nation, alcohol. They’ll do just as excellent a job handling marijuana,” Young previously told Metro. “Everything’s already in place. You’re just selling a different product.”

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