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Pennsylvania Joint Committee Takes Up Marijuana Legalization As Governor Renews Push For Reform

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Pennsylvania lawmakers have held another hearing on marijuana legalization, this time focusing on criminal justice implications of prohibition and the potential benefits of reform.

As the governor steps up his push for legalization, including the policy change in his budget request last month, members of the Health Subcommittee on Health Care and Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Corrections met to take up the issue on Wednesday.

“I think we are really well-positioned to move forward with legislation,” Rep. Dan Frankel (D), chair of the full Health Committee who previously sponsored cannabis legalization legislation, said at the beginning of the hearing.

Rep. Rick Krajewski (D) stressed that criminal justice components of legalization and expunging prior records is one area lawmakers “really need to get right, and get right on the first time, given what we know about the criminalization of cannabis and the ways it has impacted Black and brown communities, working class communities and the ways in which that record still carries a burden.”

Rep. Emily Kinkead (D) said “we have criminalized whole groups of people for the use of marijuana at a far greater rate than we have other groups,” referencing racial disparities in enforcement. “Now the groups that did not get criminalized are making incredible profits off of legalized marijuana,” she said.

“If we’re going to be serious about legalizing cannabis we need to be serious about actually addressing the reality of criminal records,” she said.

Representatives of advocacy organizations, including the Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), testified in favor of the reform. Bob Troyer, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, was among those who spoke against the proposal.

LPP’s Frank Stiefel talked about the need to ensure that expungements are incorporated into any legalization model, saying “we would hope that the legislature takes our recommendation seriously to ensure that no Pennsylvanian continues to suffer the most harmful consequences of cannabis prohibition.”

Chad Bruckner, a retired detective with LEAP, said that regulating cannabis “obviously has much benefit so we can see exactly what’s coming in and what’s not,” adding that the current system is a “free-for-all.”

He also discussed his own experience using medical cannabis to transition away from alcohol and certain prescription drugs.

“It can do amazing things for people if we regulate it, work together to control it and listen to people have gone through it,” he said. “I think we can really do this.”

Troyer, the former U.S. attorney, discussed his view that “there were many criminal impacts from commercialization [of marijuana] here in Colorado.”

“The black market out here did not go away or disappear as some hoped or thought or promised,” he claimed.

Rep. Kathy Rapp (R), ranking member of the subcommittee, said that it’s her understanding that any legalization legislation that comes from their discussions may now go to the Judiciary Committee, rather than the Health Committee, which could explain why Wednesday’s meeting was a joint hearing.

Meanwhile, a newly formed coalition of health professionals, law enforcement, researchers and cannabis stakeholders called ResponsiblePA put out a statement on Wednesday calling for adult-use legalization, and it said it intends to help inform lawmakers as they continue to explore the issue.

Rob Greene, Republican District Attorney of Warren County, said in the press release that “as many as 66 percent of Pennsylvania voters support legalization.”

“Today, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to build from the success of its medical cannabis program while ensuring full market access for regulated products,” he said. “Just as we do with medical cannabis, we can properly regulate adult-use marijuana with stringent health and safety standards backed by regulatory oversight.”

David Nathan, co-founder of Doctors for Drug Policy Reform which is a member of the coalition, said the state “has the opportunity to adopt best practices and international standards in the key areas of packaging and labeling, marketing, and other measures that will protect consumers, children, pets, and the public at large.”

The Health subcommittee has met several times recently to discuss the issue. At their last 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.

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.

While Pennsylvania lawmakers have put forward legalization bills in the past, it’s not clear what might serve as the vehicle for reform this year.

Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) once again proposed legalization as part of his budget request last month, seeking to establish a system that would be implemented starting this summer. But while he suggested certain parameters such as having the Department of Agriculture regulate the program, there’s not legislative text yet.

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jordan Harris (D) said in a recent interview that it’s “high time” to legalize marijuana and lay the groundwork for businesses in the state to export cannabis to other markets if federal law changes—and he sees a “real opportunity” to do so.

However, the committee’s minority chairman, Rep. Seth Grove (R), said he’s doubtful that the Democratic-controlled House will be able to craft and deliver legalization legislation that could advance through the GOP majority Senate.


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 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.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) also recently complained that Pennsylvania is being “lapped” on marijuana policy as other states in the region enact legalization.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania lawmakers recently advanced a pair of bills meant to prevent police from charging medical cannabis patients with impaired driving without proof of intoxication.

A Republican state senator also says he will soon introduce legislation that would remove barriers under state law to medical marijuana patients carrying firearms.

In December, the governor signed a bill to allow all licensed medical marijuana grower-processors in the state to serve as retailers and sell their cannabis products directly to patients. Independent dispensaries could also start cultivating their own marijuana.

A poll released last month found that about two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters in the state support enacting marijuana legalization.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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