After repeatedly calling for cannabis law reform in the past, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) continued that advocacy in his 2021 Budget Address.
Pennsylvania Governor’s History of Cannabis Advocacy
In April of 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3. In doing so, he made Pennsylvania the 24th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana. The framework of a marijuana market was set in place: a state licensed system of distribution, a 5% tax rate on sales between processors and dispensaries, and an established base of patients in need. However, progression toward full legalization has since stalled in the Keystone State – but not without effort.
In 2019, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman embarked on a statewide tour to gauge public opinion on legal cannabis. In the announcement of the tour, Gov. Wolf commented, “we could choose to ignore what’s going on in the world and just pretend that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, or we can actually open our eyes and ears and say, ‘let’s go out and ask—let’s find out’.”
Wolf and Fetterman went on to conclude that nearly 100% of Pennsylvania residents stood in favor of decriminalization, and over 65% were in favor of full recreational marijuana legalization. With that, Wolf announced his full support of legalization, in addition to calling for action from state lawmakers. Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman have continued and increased their enthusiasm for legalization into the Coronavirus pandemic. In September of last year, Wolf exclaimed, “now more than ever, specifically right in the middle of a pandemic, we have a desperate need for the economic boost that the legalization of cannabis could provide.”
They continued their push throughout fall and into winter, hosting press conferences alongside local hemp farmers, state representatives, and spokespeople from NORML. In one of those press conferences, the governor emphasized the urgency of the situation, saying, “New Jersey citizens are going to vote. . . and if they vote to legalize it, we will have given up the opportunity to gain the revenue that will definitely go across the border to New Jersey.”
Lt. Gov. Fetterman further pushed the issue, describing that “New Jersey is going to vote to legalize marijuana, and 40% of our population will live within a 30-minute drive or less of legal marijuana . . . we’re talking about generating billions in long-term revenue for Pennsylvania. We’re talking about generating tens of thousands of jobs. We’re talking about substantial criminal justice reform that leads to over 20,000 arrests of our fellow Pennsylvanians every year. We’re talking about freedom.”
Since then, Governor Tom Wolf and his team have established a legislative plan for 2021, and legal pot is on the agenda.
Pennsylvania Pushing for Legal Pot in 2021
In addressing Pennsylvania’s budget, the governor has gone on record in saying that, “Pennsylvania has built a successful medical marijuana program through bipartisan work . . . it’s time to take the next step and legalize recreational marijuana in the commonwealth with an emphasis on helping businesses and restorative justice.”
To spearhead that final goal, “a portion of the revenue will support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana,” Wolf said. “Combined, these initiatives will serve as a step forward in reversing the decades of injustices, economic harm and trauma caused by marijuana criminalization, particularly on minority communities.”
Wolf continued touting cannabis legalization as a pillar of criminal justice reform as well, saying, “beyond these budget initiatives, the next year must include policy reforms that focus on making our criminal justice system fair, efficient, and restorative. Similarly, the legalization of adult-use cannabis will begin to eliminate the harm that has been caused in our society by the criminalization of marijuana.”
While the majority of Democrat lawmakers have shown support of policy change, the Republican-controlled Senate is seen to be the biggest obstacle in the path toward legalization. However, Gov. Wolf has emphasized bipartisan support for the cause, using the 2021 budget process to once again call for recreational cannabis.
Previous projections have predicted that a legal adult-use marijuana market in Pennsylvania could generate over $800 million in sales in year one, eclipsing 1.7 billion in sales by year four.
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