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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Step Up Push For Marijuana Legalization, With Emphasis On Social Equity



Pennsylvania lawmakers are stepping up their push to pass a marijuana legalization bill, emphasizing the need for bipartisan and bicameral collaboration to enact the reform with a focus on social justice.

At a “Cannabis Day at the Capitol” rally hosted by DACO and Black Cannabis Week on Tuesday, several legislators underscored their commitment to advancing legalization in the Keystone State.

Rep. Chris Rabb (D) gave an impassioned speech, stating that lawmakers “don’t talk about the history that put prohibition on this place—and if we don’t acknowledge the context in which this policy was radically changed in the 1930s, then we don’t do justice to the fight today. And that policy change was born out of racism.”

“I’ll say it again, because these are words that a lot of my colleagues don’t want to use—because it may seem impolite or controversial or problematic—but you know what’s more problematic? Racism itself,” he said. “We are here today because there was a time when this plant was associated with people who were marginalized and victimized to benefit other industries who are afraid of cannabis.”

Rabb also seemed to draw a line in the sand on the need to incorporate social equity provisions into any legalization bill that advances, saying it’s going to be “really hard to get 102 votes in the House” if the legislation primarily favors “wealthy people” who “play around the margins.”

“If this legislation that ultimately is enacted into law is not centered on social equity—and when I say social equity, I don’t just mean Black and brown folks. I mean rural folks, folks with disabilities, the law enforcement community, farmers, all kinds of folks—this doesn’t just happen,” he said.

Sen. Sharif Street (D), who has championed legalization legislation over recent sessions, also participated in the rally, echoed Rabb’s points, saying “an essential part of passing adult-use is it’s gotta be making sure that they seal and expunge the records of all those folks who are convicted of cannabis crimes.”

“We gotta make sure that Black and brown business folks have a have an opportunity to participate in the recreational adult-use,” he said.

Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D) said that while Pennsylvania might not be one of the first states to legalize, “we’re going to be the first to do it right.”

Brittany Crampsie, spokesperson for ResponsiblePA, told Marijuana Moment that, as lawmakers “consider adult-use legalization in this year’s budget, voters and reform advocates across the state are urging the legislature to pass adult-use cannabis legalization now.”

“It is essential that our state no longer trails its neighbors in implementing equitable laws around cannabis,” she said, adding that the organization commends legislators who participated in Tuesday’s event “for calling on their peers in both chambers for leadership and consensus-building at this critical time.”

While the rally only featured Democratic lawmakers, ResponsiblePA organized a separate event last month where Sens. Dan Laughlin (R), who is sponsoring cannabis legislation with Street, said the state is “getting close” to legalizing marijuana, but the job will only get done if House and Senate leaders sit down with the governor and “work it out.”

“We need to work it out, and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Laughlin said, adding that while he understands Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) has again included legalization in his budget proposal this year, “you need to sit down with House and Senate leadership and try and work out a package where we can get this done.”

Warren County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Robert Greene, a registered medical cannabis patient in the state,  also spoke at that rally. In January, Greene filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn a ban preventing medical marijuana patients from buying and possessing firearms.

Meanwhile, last month the governor’s office said that the Biden administration’s move to federally reschedule marijuana “adds support” for an effort to legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania.

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

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 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.

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Also in April, members of the House Health Committee 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.”

“I’m here to get this done,” Brown said at this week’s rally, noting that he and other people he knows have a “personal experience” with current marijuana policy.

At a prior meeting in March, 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.

The cannabis proposal the Brown filed in the House in April is an identical companion to a bipartisan Senate cannabis legalization measure that was introduced last year.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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