A bill to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania was formally introduced on Tuesday, and sponsors emphasized that the plan is to enact a policy change the prioritizes social equity for communities most harmed by the war on drugs.
Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D) rolled out the legislation at a press conference. This comes months after the two circulated a cosponsorship memo urging colleagues to get on board with the cannabis reform.
“We think we have the industry standard,” Wheatley said at a press conference with supporters. “You’ve heard me over and over again, year after year, talk about this important issue. For some, it’s an economic question. For others, it’s a question around access and opportunity. But the baseline of why I’ve been harping on this for as long as I have is the social and criminal justice reform aspects.”
That said, the lawmaker acknowledged that “there’s real significant opportunities within our Commonwealth to increase our revenue from an industry that we see is growing all across all of our neighbors.”
Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. People could receive a permit for home cultivation to grow up to three mature and three immature plants.
People with marijuana convictions would have their records automatically expunged, and those currently incarcerated over cannabis offenses made legal under the measure would be released.
A 13 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with 15 percent of revenue going to community reinvestment, 15 percent to substance misuse treatment programs and 70 percent for the state general fund.
I've introduced a bill to legalize the adult use of cannabis. Not only would it create jobs and generate much-needed revenue, but it would also eliminate the aggressive enforcement of simple marijuana possession laws in marginalized communities. pic.twitter.com/Nfd0qhk0hL
— Jake Wheatley (@RepWheatley) September 28, 2021
Those from communities most impacted by cannabis criminalization, as well as veterans, would be prioritized to receive business licenses.
The state Departments of Revenue, Agriculture, Health and the attorney general’s office would be responsible for overseeing and regulating aspects of the program.
“This is a piece of legislation that’s been worked on by many staff at the Democratic caucus, worked with advocates, looked at models from other states and I think it’s really a great piece of legislation that I think will hopefully galvanize a conversation to finally deal with it,” Frankel said. “Now we all know the terrible history of the criminalization of cannabis—mass incarceration for people of color, as well as harmful ramifications for people’s ability to get jobs, education or loans.”
— State Rep. Dan Frankel (@RepDanFrankel) September 28, 2021
“The most important part of this legislation seeks to repair some of the damage caused by generations of harmful policy in this area,” he said.
The introduction of HB 2050 comes as a bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting separate legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. Sens. Sharif Street (D) and Dan Laughlin (R) announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Meanwhile, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) pointed out on Tuesday that Pennsylvania lags behind other states on cannabis reform.
“NY has legalized marijuana. NJ has legalized marijuana,” he said in a tweet. “It’s time for PA to join our neighbors, and legalize marijuana. But let me be clear: We must simultaneously expunge the records of those serving time for non-violent marijuana convictions—and that is non-negotiable.”
NY has legalized marijuana. NJ has legalized marijuana. It’s time for PA to join our neighbors, and legalize marijuana.
But let me be clear: We must simultaneously expunge the records of those serving time for non-violent marijuana convictions — and that is non-negotiable.
— Josh Shapiro (@JoshShapiroPA) September 28, 2021
While broad cannabis legalization proposals have not moved forward in the GOP-controlled legislature, Pennsylvania senators heard testimony last week on a bill to protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
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Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R) first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for 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. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marked his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Read the text of the new Pennsylvania marijuana legalization bill below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.