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Pennsylvania Rep Pushes Marijuana Legalization Study Amid Racial Arrest Disparity

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Coming on the heels of a report showing stark racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement in his state, a Pennsylvania representative is pushing his colleagues to launch an official study on legalizing or decriminalizing the drug.

Sponsored by Rep. Ed Gainey (D), the new House resolution would “establish an advisory committee to conduct an ongoing study on the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana and to report its findings and recommendations.”

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a report showing that African Americans in the state are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than are whites.

Gainey, who is black, expressed his concern about the new data in a press conference.

“When you look at a rate that says…African Americans get more arrested for the possession of marijuana than anybody else and we use the same amount of drug the same as every other ethic group,” he said, “the time is for us to come together and talk about how we decriminalize or legalize a product that’s been here since the beginning of time.”

The ACLU study also showed that overall marijuana arrests have risen in the state since 2010.

Gainey’s push for a marijuana study commission comes as other states, including New Hampshire, Delaware, Vermont and Rhode Island are also officially studying cannabis changes.

If the resolution is adopted, the commission would be comprised of representatives from state agencies, law enforcement officials, drug and alcohol service providers and professionals from the criminal justice system such as attorneys and judges, as well as other experts.

In a memo circulated to colleagues last month, Gainey wrote that the study would examine areas “such as tax revenue generated, the costs associated with drug and alcohol diagnosis and treatment, and the changes in expenditures associated with criminal investigations, prosecutions and incarceration” that could result from legalization or decriminalization.

The commission would also look at “the effects on drug and alcohol addiction rates, the effects on crime rates and incarceration rates, any changes in the relationship between law enforcement officials and members of the community, and the effects on law enforcement and criminal justice procedures.”

Pennsylvania regulators are currently in the process of implementing a medical cannabis law that legislators enacted last year.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has expressed support for decriminalizing marijuana but says that the state should wait before considering fully legalizing it.

This story was first published on Forbes.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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