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Bipartisan Pennsylvania Lawmakers Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill As Neighboring Ohio Readies Market Launch Across Border



Bipartisan Pennsylvania lawmakers have announced their intent to file a new bill to legalize recreational marijuana, soliciting support from colleagues amid a revived push for reform in the legislature as neighboring states move forward to open legal cannabis markets.

In a cosponsorship memo that was circulated on Monday, Reps. Aaron Kaufer (R) and Emily Kinkead (D) noted that a growing number of states have enacted legalization, including most recently Ohio, which is “primed to open their market with the lion’s share of their licenses perched on the border of Pennsylvania as they seek to take capture Pennsylvania dollars into their market.”

“Accordingly, we believe that now is the time for Pennsylvania to move in a similar direction and our bill establishes strong tenets for an adult-use market,” they said.

The text of the legislation isn’t available yet, but the lawmakers said it would create a regulated cannabis market under the state Department of Agriculture, prioritize social equity and small businesses, enact safeguards to deter youth use and generate tax revenue for law enforcement and local governments.

“We hope this bill will act as a strong starting point for discussions around legalizing adult-use cannabis in a thoughtful and strategic way,” they wrote to colleagues. “Please join us in cosponsoring this important piece of legislation.”

Kaufer said in a press release that the bill that will be introducing “underscores our commitment to responsible regulation of the cannabis industry while addressing the diverse needs of Pennsylvania’s communities.”

“By prioritizing public safety and consumer protection, this legislation will build on the successful regulatory structure of the state’s medical cannabis program, continuing stringent standards for product quality, packaging and labeling to ensure the well-being of all consumers,” he said.

Kinkead added that it’s “well past time for the Commonwealth to legalize cannabis for recreational use, address the injustices of the failed War on Drugs, and ensure that Pennsylvanians can benefit from this industry in the same way our neighboring states have.”

“Our bipartisan effort to provide specific language that takes the best practices from other states is the next substantial step in finally getting this done,” she said.

The memo is being distributed a week after several legislators participated in a cannabis rally at the Pennsylvania State Capitol, where there was a significant emphasis on the need to incorporate social equity provisions as they move to advance legalization.

While the rally only featured Democratic lawmakers, ResponsiblePA organized a separate event last month where Sens. Dan Laughlin (R), who is sponsoring a separate cannabis bill with Sen. Sharif Street (D), said the state is “getting close” to legalizing marijuana, but the job will only get done if House and Senate leaders sit down with the governor and “work it out.”

“We need to work it out, and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Laughlin said, adding that while he understands Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) has again included legalization in his budget proposal this year, “you need to sit down with House and Senate leadership and try and work out a package where we can get this done.”

Warren County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Robert Greene, a registered medical cannabis patient in the state, also spoke at that rally. In January, Greene filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn a ban preventing medical marijuana patients from buying and possessing firearms.

Meanwhile, last month the governor’s office said that the Biden administration’s move to federally reschedule marijuana “adds support” for an effort to legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania.

Two Pennsylvania House panels held a joint hearing to discuss marijuana legalization in April, with multiple lawmakers asking the state’s top liquor regulator about the prospect of having that agency run cannabis shops.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Also in April, members of the House Health Committee had a conversation centered on social justice and equity considerations for reform.

That took place days after Rep. Amen Brown (D) filed a marijuana legalization bill that he described as “grounded in safety and social equity.”

“I’m here to get this done,” Brown said at last week’s rally, noting that he and other people he knows have a “personal experience” with current marijuana policy.

At a prior meeting in March, members focused on criminal justice implications of prohibition and the potential benefits of reform.

At another hearing in February, members looked at the industry perspective, with multiple stakeholders from cannabis growing, dispensing and testing businesses, as well as clinical registrants, testifying.

At the subcommittee’s previous cannabis meeting in December, members heard testimony and asked questions about various elements of marijuana oversight, including promoting social equity and business opportunities, laboratory testing and public versus private operation of a state-legal cannabis industry.

And during the panel’s first meeting late last year, Frankel said that state-run stores are “certainly an option” he’s considering for Pennsylvania, similar to what New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) recommended for that state last year, though a state commission later shied away from that plan.

The cannabis proposal the Brown filed in the House in April is an identical companion to a bipartisan Senate cannabis legalization measure that was introduced last year.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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