Pennsylvania senators held the first in a planned series of hearings on the question of recreational marijuana legalization in the state.
Pennsylvania’s Senate Law and Justice Committee was joined by representatives from law enforcement, local lawmakers and cannabis industry stakeholders at the meeting. Issues under discussion ranged from the affect the reform would have on policing, impaired driving and the illicit cannabis market in the state.
Adult-use cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania has the backing of Gov. Tom Wolf, who welcomed the committee’s first cannabis-related hearing in a tweet.
Today state lawmakers are taking the first real step to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania.
I'm excited to see this moving forward. It's what Pennsylvanians say they want.
For me to sign, legislation must rightfully include decriminalization and restorative justice measures.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) February 7, 2022
Sen. Mike Reagan (R) is the committee’s chair, and he stated his intention to use stakeholder input from the hearings to flesh out his own forthcoming marijuana legalization measure. Along with Rep. Amen Brown (D), Regan sent a cosponsorship memo to congressional colleagues last year to put the reform on lawmakers’ radar and build support for the measure.
Brown was also present at the hearing, and acknowledged that while legal recreational sales would not eliminate the illicit market in Pennsylvania, it would drastically reduce it. Also present was Sen. Dan Laughlin (R), cosponsor of a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill alongside Sen. Sharif Street (D) that was introduced last year.
But rather than focusing on specific legislative proposals, the hearing was primarily concerned with how marijuana legalization would impact on the role of law enforcement.
“We can talk about the finer points at another hearing on how best to do that,” Laughlin said during the hearing, “but we are experiencing the absolute worst, in my opinion, almost in the whole country by having a medical program and having a black market at the same time.”
The committee’s next hearing is due to take place next month and will consider how states that have legalized adult-use cannabis approached the reform.
“We need to discuss these issues out in the open,” Laughlin continued. “In my opinion, by continuing to ignore this issue, we are supporting criminal enterprises because, for all intents and purposes, we de facto legalized adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania through the medical program.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a staunch advocate for marijuana legalization, recently said his main goal for his final year in office as he launches his candidacy for the US Senate is to process as many marijuana-related pardons as possible.
House lawmakers are also busy with efforts to reform Pennsylvania’s cannabis laws. Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D) recently introduced a marijuana legalization bill with robust social equity provisions though, like the senate proposal, its prospects in the Republican-controlled legislature remain unclear.