Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced on Thursday that his lieutenant governor will be holding listening sessions in all of the state’s 67 counties to discuss the potential legalization of marijuana.
The move comes after Wolf, who previously said the state wasn’t ready to legalize, changed his tune. The governor now believes “it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana” in light of moves to end cannabis prohibition in neighboring states like New York and New Jersey.
“We could choose to ignore what’s going on in the world and just pretend that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, or we can actually open our eyes and ears and say, ‘let’s go out and ask—let’s find out,” Wolf said during a press conference announcing the listening tour.
Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman (D), a vocal proponent of cannabis reform, will spearhead the town hall-style listening sessions. NORML endorsed Fetterman last year and called him “an unrelenting champion for reversing Pennsylvania’s failed and draconic policies when it comes to marijuana.”
.@JohnFetterman wants to know what every Pennsylvanian thinks about legalizing recreational marijuana. That's why he's going on a listening tour to all 67 PA counties. Stay tuned for dates and details on how to submit your thoughts. pic.twitter.com/buqOwi4B2F
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) January 24, 2019
“I see it as another strong example of Governor Wolf’s leadership,” Fetterman said of the listening sessions. [He] understands that Pennsylvania is a diverse state that has different opinions on things. What better mechanism in order to determine where we are at as a commonwealth than to go to every single county and figure out where people are at?”
Members of the House and Senate are actively drafting adult-use marijuana legalization bills that they hope will reach the governor’s desk this year. But it remains to be seen whether the Republican-controlled chambers will approve such legislation.
“Pennsylvanians have spoken,” Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. (D) wrote in a co-sponsorship memo earlier this month. “They recognize the once ugly stigma of cannabis is now just a part of history and want the Commonwealth to move into the future. We can take a step towards the future with the passage of my legislation.”
Wolf recognized that there are deeply-held views on the issue, but declined to say whether he’s had recent conversations with Republicans in the legislature about the issue. He said there hasn’t been pushback to the idea of listening sessions, however.
“This is a democracy,” Wolf said. “People are encouraged to have different ideas on what we ought to do, and I think that’s great.”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out: What are those ideas? What is the view in this year 2019—not what was the view back in 1962?”
The move is similar to one made last year by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), whose administration held listening sessions on cannabis legalization across the state. He later personally endorsed ending marijuana prohibition and included language to do so in his budget proposal that lawmakers are now considering.
According to a press release, the Pennsylvania listening tour will begin in mid-February.
Today, @GovernorTomWolf joined Lt. Gov. @JohnFetterman as he announced the launch of his statewide listening tour to get feedback from Pennsylvanians about the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana. https://t.co/X5zSh7YMrh
— The Press Office (@GovernorsOffice) January 24, 2019
Separately, a Philadelphia city councilmember plans to introduce a proposal on Thursday that would put the question of legalizing marijuana in the city to voters. He said Wolf’s evolution on the issue make it an “appropriate time” to consider the legislation.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.