A Republican Pennsylvania senator and former federal law enforcement agent announced on Monday that he will be filing a bill to legalize marijuana in the state—and he’s asking his colleagues to join him in the effort.
Sen. Mike Regan (R), who chairs a key committee with jurisdiction over law enforcement issues, characterized legalization as “inevitable” and is circulating a cosponsorship memo to build support for the forthcoming measure. Before taking office, he served as a U.S. marshal, making it all the more notable that he’s taking this step to end criminalization and enact a system of regulated cannabis sales for adults.
“I had the opportunity to work in federal law enforcement at the height of the drug war, so I know the seriousness of drug use,” Regan wrote. “But I am also cognizant that there has been a significant decline in arrests and prosecutions for personal use amounts of marijuana in recent years.”
“Our law enforcement agencies and justice system do not have the manpower or time to handle these minor marijuana offenses that clog our courts and produce little return,” he said. “Instead, police and prosecutors need to focus on protecting our residents from the violent criminals and large-scale drug importers that are also dealing in heroin and fentanyl, which kill thousands of Pennsylvanians each year.”
Given the senator’s law enforcement credentials and relationships with GOP colleagues who have been historically resistant to Democratic-led pushes for legalization, Regan’s move could help shift the conversation in the legislature.
Under the senator’s proposal, portions of tax revenue from marijuana sales would support law enforcement and after-school programs for disadvantaged youth. He noted estimates that Pennsylvania could eventually bring in $1 billion annually in cannabis revenue.
Just last week, a separate pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing. That one would prioritize social equity for communities most harmed by the war on drugs, in part by allocating 15 percent of revenue for community reinvestment.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Monday that there may be disputes between legislators over how tax revenue should be distributed, but Regan’s proposal overall is “significant” because it breaks with the largely partisan sentiment surrounding legalization in the GOP-controlled legislature.
He said he’s “definitely” encouraged by this latest development.
Last week’s unveiling of the Democratic-led House legalization bill also comes as a bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting separate legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. Sens. Sharif Street (D) and Dan Laughlin (R) announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but their bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Here are some of the details of the Regan bill outlined in the cosponsorship memo:
- Legalize adult-use marijuana for those 21 years of age and older;
- Establish a new regulatory control board;
- Remove penalties for use and possession by adults;
- Protect the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program;
- Allow for the legal purchase and possession of firearms regardless of one’s choice to use marijuana;
- Provide for social equity, inclusion, and assistance for business entry into the industry;
- Address DUI enforcement;
- Develop education and deterrents for underage use and possession; and
- Enhance Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry.
“For those questioning my sponsorship of such legislation, it is important to recognize that legalization of adult-use marijuana in Pennsylvania is inevitable,” Regan, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, wrote a separate op-ed on the measure:
“I am stepping up to be a leader on the issue, as I did on medical marijuana,” he said. “And I am doing so using a common-sense, bi-partisan, bi-cameral approach that will provide Pennsylvanians access to a safe product, create thousands of jobs, level the playing field with neighboring states, support law enforcement and our communities, and more importantly, defund the deadly drug cartels who have wreaked so much havoc on the Commonwealth and our country for so many years.”
While broad cannabis legalization proposals have not moved forward in the GOP-controlled legislature, Pennsylvania senators heard testimony last month on a bill to protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
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Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R) first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
On Monday, the governor tweeted that he’s “all for legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.”
I'm all for legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.
For me to sign, the bill must include efforts to restore justice to Pennsylvanians who have been over-punished for marijuana offenses.
General Assembly: Let's talk. https://t.co/5AfwgqSLgQ
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) October 4, 2021
“For me to sign, the bill must include efforts to restore justice to Pennsylvanians who have been over-punished for marijuana offenses,” he said. “General Assembly: Let’s talk.”
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marked his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.