A key Pennsylvania Senate committee on Monday held the second of three hearings it has scheduled on marijuana legalization, taking testimony meant to help inform a forthcoming reform bill that the panel’s chairman is actively drafting.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting focused on the experiences of other states that have enacted legalization, with industry stakeholders, advocates and representatives of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity testifying on the issue.
Sen. Mike Regan (R), who chairs the panel, circulated a cosponsorship memo last year along with Rep. Amen Brown (D) to build support for the reform, and these meetings are designed to give lawmakers added context into the best approach to legalization for the state.
At an initial hearing earlier this month, much of the discussion focused on whether creating a regulated market would be sufficient to eliminate illicit sales, how police would be affected and the impact on impaired driving.
This time around, committee members talked about varying tax structures and other regulatory approaches that have been created in states like Illinois and California.
“There has been a demand from many of my colleagues in both the Senate and the House that any adult-use legislation needs to be comprehensive and include best practices from other states,” Regan said in opening remarks. “We have gone to great lengths to bring together an extremely knowledgeable and diverse group of individuals with experience in many of those states.”
While reform bills have been introduced in past sessions and the policy change has the support of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), Monday’s event marks only the second time a legislative panel has debated recreational legalization in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania General Assembly. One more hearing will soon be scheduled in the panel.
The latest hearing provided a broad overview of the experiences in out-of-state markets, rather than specific legislative proposals like a bipartisan measure introduced last year by Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D), who also participated in the hearing.
On Monday, watch the 2nd of 3 hearings on finally ending the prohibition of cannabis in PA. We have a responsibility to end the failed war on drugs, expunge records, and use millions in taxes to fund our communities. #legalizeit https://t.co/jmaDEP16mQhttps://t.co/V7VXe1aqdB…
— Senator Sharif Street (@SenSharifStreet) February 26, 2022
Those senators also recently filed introduced a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use. Street had attempted to get the reform enacted as an amendment to an omnibus bill this summer, but it did not advance.
“Since first announcing my intention of introducing legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana, I have expressed my desire to learn from those states who have taken that step,” Regan said. “I want to fully understand which states are models of success, which ones we should look at for guidance on specific aspects of establishing an adult-use cannabis program in Pennsylvania and which states have failed in one way or another.”
“It is not necessary for us to go about this blindly when 18 other states have navigated the process already,” the chairman said. “Learning from them is important so that we can answer questions our constituents and colleagues have raised about how adult use marijuana will be will be implemented in Pennsylvania.”
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Meanwhile, Street is behind another recent cannabis measure to provide state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with cannabis businesses.
Jeremiah Mosteller, senior policy analyst for criminal justice at Americans for Prosperity, testified at Monday’s hearing that the organization is contributing “as a neutral voice to help states set up fair, safe and efficient markets that can undermine the black market.”
He said that other states like Michigan could be viewed as a model for taxation, for example, by creating a tax scheme that is phased in over time. He also emphasized the importance of “empowering local companies and farmers to be a part of this market.”
Regan concluded the hearing by thanking the witnesses and saying that he’s “cognizant that the legalization of adult-use of marijuana is concerning for many members—but as more surrounding states legalize marijuana, we cannot sit idly by, and that’s why these hearings are so vitally important.”
LAW & JUSTICE COMMITTEE – a public hearing on adult-use marijuana
Watch Live NOW: https://t.co/yeP0wpRtAM
— Senator Dan Laughlin (@senatorlaughlin) February 28, 2022
In the interim, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment through an expedited petition program.
Pennsylvania lawmakers could also take up more modest marijuana reform proposals like a bill filed late last year to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.
Additionally, another pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing last year.
Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization in November that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”
Wolf, the governor, said last 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.
The governor, 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.
A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released last year found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.
During #PASenate Law & Justice Committee hearing, discussion included #SB167, my bill ensuring legal medicinal cannabis patients who are unimpaired do not receive a DUI conviction. Thanks Patrick Nightingale, Esq, for the support & shoutout. @PASenateGOP https://t.co/FrnuI1O5vR
— Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) February 28, 2022
An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last year, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.