The governor of Pennsylvania is including marijuana legalization in his list of 2021 legislative priorities.
In an agenda released on Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said enacting the cannabis policy change should be part of the state’s economic recovery and would also promote social equity.
With neighboring states moving toward legalization, he said “Pennsylvania cannot afford to be left behind.”
“Legalizing adult-use cannabis has strong bipartisan support among Pennsylvanians,” the governor’s agenda states. “The revenue generated from legalization will be used to support historically disadvantaged small businesses through grant funding and provide them the assistance they need to build back from the economic crisis and strengthen our economy.”
Build on bipartisan progress:
⚖️ Criminal justice system reform
⚕️ Health care reform
🎖 Increase access to high demand jobs
🖋 Reduce the corporate net income tax reform + close the Delaware Loophole
🍃 Legalize adult-use marijuana
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) January 28, 2021
Wolf is set to deliver a budget speech to lawmakers on Tuesday. It’s not yet clear if he will include cannabis-related reforms in his formal spending request, as lawmakers in other states such as New York and Rhode Island have done.
The Pennsylvania governor, who came out in favor of adult-use legalization in 2019, said in the new agenda that the state will also use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to “support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana.”
Establishing a regulated cannabis market will build on the state’s success in enacting a medical marijuana program in 2017, the governor said.
Since adopting a pro-legalization position, Wolf has repeatedly called on the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform.
In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, reform advocates also have a strong champion of legalization in Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D).
The top official, who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform.
While Republican lawmakers have resisted these calls, Fetterman has put his support centerstage, including by hanging marijuana-themed flags at his Capitol office.
In an interview with Marijuana Moment on Wednesday, he said the decor was removed this week at the behest of certain GOP members who passed a temporary budget restricting the types of flags that can be flown on government property—but he promptly put them back up.
“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.
Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing legalization through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”
He’s also said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.
In September, the lieutenant governor hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from his counterparts in Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.