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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Press Liquor Regulator About State’s Ability To Run Marijuana Shops During Joint Legalization Hearing



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

Members of the House Health Committee and Liquor Control Committee heard testimony from a series of experts who also discussed issues such as impaired driving, workplace drug policies and the need for product testing in a legal market.

Rep. Dan Frankel (D), chair of the Health Committee, has previously raised the possibility of pursuing legalization through a state-run model similar to the one Pennsylvania currently has for alcohol. Several lawmakers took the opportunity to ask Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) Executive Director Rodrigo Diaz about that concept at this latest hearing.

He was asked about the capacity of PLCB being able to manage enhanced ID checks, security, tax collection product approvals and more. Diaz signaled that the board would find a way to address the various concerns, but he stressed that “we don’t advocate—we will do what you tell us.”

“What we’re asking you though is to be cognizant of these issues that you’re raising and address them so that we’re not just making it up,” he said, adding that regulators want “clear guidance as to how you want us to address those kinds of issues.”

Frankel also said at the hearing that the panel has “wrestled with” how to navigate the workplace safety issue and ensuring that any future policies “create an environment where people are safe and not wrongly accused of being impaired.”

Another witness, Ryan Vandrey, who is a professor of behavioral pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, walked the committee through alternatives to urine- or blood-based drug tests, including cognitive impairment tests. He also took another member’s question about how legalization could mitigate the prevalence of unregulated products in the market.

“That is one of the strongest arguments for broader legalization of regulated cannabis products, because there’s been a proliferation of unregulated cannabinoid products that are essentially the same and, in some cases, even stronger or more impairing than delta-9 THC,” he said.

“I don’t think they entirely go away and they’ll still exist as a market, but the market would be much smaller,” Vandrey said. “Research has showed that that’s happened—that those products are much less available and less likely to be used in states where adult-use cannabis has been legalized.”

Frankel said in closing remarks that the hearing “helped educate us in a very meaningful way, and we are taking this seriously as we develop a piece of legislation to look at adult-use.”

This was the latest in a series of legalization hearings in the Keystone State, though normally they are convened by the House Health Subcommittee on Health Care. About two weeks ago, members of that panel 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.”

At a prior meeting last month, 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.

Meanwhile, the cannabis proposal the Brown filed in the House this month is an identical companion to a bipartisan Senate cannabis legalization measure that was introduced last year.

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.

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 in February, 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.

Last month, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released a report that found the state stands to generate $271 million in annual revenue if marijuana is legalized and taxed according to the governor’s proposal—but it would have been more if the commonwealth hadn’t been lapped by other neighboring states that have already enacted the reform.

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.

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

A Republican senator in Pennsylvania introduced a bill last week meant to remove state barriers to medical marijuana patients carrying firearms after previewing the legislation and soliciting co-sponsors earlier this year.

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 in February found that about two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters in the state support enacting marijuana legalization.

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