Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implored the Republican-controlled legislature to legalize adult-use cannabis to help the state’s COVID-19 economic recovery.
Gov. Wolf made the plea when announcing his fall legislative agenda, arguing marijuana sales tax revenues could fund restorative justice programs and support small businesses struggling from the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s estimated an adult-use marijuana market in Pennsylvania would generate $90 million in tax revenues that could be allocated towards relief efforts for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, in particular for those businesses and communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition.
“Fifty percent of the funding would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses. Along with the call to the General Assembly to pass legislation legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, the governor proposes that a portion of the revenue be used to further restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization,” Wolf’s office detailed in a press release.
Other proposals for coronavirus relief put forth by the governor include releasing more federal money through the CARES Act, canceling alcohol taxes for the hospitality industry, and bumping up the pay of frontline workers by $3.00 an hour.
Wolf said he hoped the example of states that have legalized marijuana and made a lot of money doing so would convince Republicans to get behind the measure, given the current economic downturn. Wolf is not the only US governor banking on adult-use marijuana tax money to boost an ailing economy – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said marijuana legalization would help the state’s post-pandemic economic recovery, while New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy described marijuana legalization as a “no-brainer” in light of the economic difficulties wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we’ve had a little more time to see what’s happened in places like Colorado with revenues, for example, that this might be one way to plug a hole,” Wolf said.
“My hope is that with the pandemic and the hit we’ve taken to revenues, there might be a little more interest in it now,” he added.
At the same time, Wold reprimanded Republicans for their response to the public health crisis so far, stressing that many Pennsylvanians urgently need more support.
“House and Senate Democrats have been fighting for these things for years, and certainly since the beginning of the pandemic,” Wolf said. “They’ve been stopped at every turn by the Republicans who’ve been focused on ignoring the public health crisis and actually trashing me. That has to stop. We’ve got to get back to doing things that actually matter to people.”
“The legislature must come back and take immediate steps to provide funding to frontline workers and businesses, put in place protections for families and our workforce, and make these common-sense reforms that can provide confidence in our government,” he added. “Pennsylvanians need relief, they need reform, and they need it now.”
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff had a different take on the matter. She described Wolf’s legislative agenda as “unaffordable” and blamed him, not the coronavirus outbreak, for the dire economic outlook in Pennsylvania.
Around the time when COVID-19 first took hold in the US, Rep. Jake Wheatley reintroduced an adult-use marijuana legalization bill to the Pennsylvania legislature but it has lain dormant as the state grappled with its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Legalizing cannabis enjoys strong support in Pennsylvania, but it is hard to see how progress can be made while Republicans control both chambers in Congress.