When it comes to cannabis reform, voters in Pennsylvania couldn’t face a starker choice between the Republican and Democrat candidates aiming to be the state’s next governor.
The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said he would act to legalize recreational marijuana should he win the gubernatorial contest, while the Republican’s pick, Sen. Doug Mastriano, has taken an especially aggressive stance against the reform that’s been embraced by nineteen states.
During a radio interview, he described marijuana legalization as a “stupid idea” that results in an increase in violent crime and impaired driving, despite there being no evidence to substantiate either claim.
Previously, when asked about his opposition to a bill introduced to the legislature to legalize adult-use cannabis, he responded that the reform had only had negative outcomes in states that had ended prohibition.
“I look at Colorado for instance, and California—other states that have headed in this direction—and all it’s done is destroyed their society. It’s a decay on culture, and long-term, it’s going to create a crisis health-wise, because we hear all the good aspects of cannabis—and there are, of course, medical aspects, God created this plant here—but the abuse of it in smoking it, it has a deleterious effect on your lungs and respiratory system, et cetera,” the senator said.
Mastriano then went on to state that legal cannabis states were “turning into rat holes and [to] third-world back washes.”
Shapiro, meanwhile, focuses in particular on the economic benefits of legalization but has also come out in support of expunging the criminal records of those with nonviolent cannabis-related convictions.
The question of marijuana legalization has featured prominently in the US Senate election campaign between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) and TV Health Personality Dr. Oz (R), which is similarly divided along party lines, but it hasn’t yet been discussed as widely in the race for the governorship.
Current Gov. Tom Wolf (D) came out in support of the reform during his term after taking on the advice of Fetterman, who carried out a listening tour of the state to get a sense of voters’ views on the issue and reported widespread support for the move. Recent polling on the issue also suggests that 58 percent of Pennsylvanians are in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis.
Legislative action on comprehensive cannabis reform in Pennsylvania, however, has been limited. Pennsylvania senators only debated broad marijuana legalization for the first time at a committee hearing earlier this year. Instead, the legislature and the governor have approved more modest changes, like legal medical marijuana and legal protections for financial institutions that service medical cannabis businesses.
It’s looking increasingly likely though that marijuana legalization will be up for debate once again in Pennsylvania’s legislature this session. Having a reform-friendly governor in place could help push the measure over the line.