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Proponents of cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania say “we’re next” – but it won’t be easy

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HARRISBURG, PA – A loud crowd of supporters marked this April 20 by calling on Pennsylvania state lawmakers to legalize cannabis and stop arresting 20,000 people for marijuana possession each year in Keystone state.

“Nobody deserves to be a criminal for a plant!” Jeff Riedy, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley NORML Chapter, proclaimed to a cheering crowd that had gathered on the steps of the state capital in Harrisburg. “Gardening is never a crime.”

Fetterman Balcony Marijuana FlagPennsylvania Governor John Fetterman will hang a rainbow cannabis flag on the balcony of his official office in the state capital on April 20, 2021. (Yoko Furukawa for Leafly)

Jobs and tax money go out of the state

With the state’s neighbors to the north and east – New York and New Jersey – expected to open adult cannabis stores in the coming year, Pennsylvania will lose tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue until citizens are allowed to grow legally, sell and buy.

Legalization could mean 33,000 jobs and $ 500 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania.

According to new data released by Leafly yesterday, a fully legal market in Pennsylvania could reach $ 2.3 billion to $ 3.3 billion in sales within three to five years of opening. This equates to around $ 500 million in annual tax revenue and supporting 32,800 to 47,7,100 legal cannabis jobs. If that market existed today, Pennsylvania would be America’s third largest cannabis industry after California and Colorado.

Leafly CEO rally speechLeafly CEO Yoko Miyashita speaks in front of the state capital of Pennsylvania. (Yoko Furukawa for Leafly)

Pennsylvania has shut down the fastest growing industry in the United States

“This is the fastest growing American industry and Pennsylvania deserves to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity,” said Leafly CEO Yoko Miyashita, who spoke to the crowd yesterday.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania police arrest more than 20,000 citizens each year on marijuana charges. This is a waste of human potential that costs $ 75 million annually in police and court budgets.

Pennsylvania-farmers-for-legalizationPennsylvania’s farmers and Trump voters could be instrumental in collecting votes for legalization in this heavily agricultural state. (Bruce Barcott / Leafly)

The voters want it, the legislature is not so enthusiastic

Legalization should be a breeze here, and it would be if it were presented to the electorate in a nationwide initiative. According to polls, nearly two-thirds of local voters are in favor of adult legalization. However, Pennsylvania law does not allow voting rights. Everything has to go through the state parliament, and that can prove to be a challenge.

“I’m here to solve problems. And this is a problem in Pennsylvania that needs to be addressed. ”

– State Senator Dan Laughlin

Pennsylvania Governor John Fetterman, widely known as one of the most outspoken advocates of cannabis legalization in America, was in attendance for the trial yesterday (and waved three cannabis flags from his office balcony) but assumed a fairly low profile profile on stage the state legislators actively working to push a bill.

“I consider myself a common sense legislator,” said Senator Dan Laughlin. “I’m here to solve problems. And this is a problem here in Pennsylvania that needs to be addressed. ”

The beginning of a bipartisan agreement

Laughlin’s presence at the rally was a real step forward. He is a Republican from Erie County, a rural borough that forms Pennsylvania’s northwest corner of Ohio and New York. Laughlin recently became the first Republican co-sponsor of a Senate legalization bill, working with Senator Sharif Street, who represents Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania legalization “is about freedom,” Laughlin said yesterday, citing the libertarian value of personal autonomy. But it is also about economic opportunities. “In my district, I represent the poorest zip code in America,” he said. “This is a job bill like anything else.”

A problem with nationwide calling

It is no coincidence that Laughlin recently announced his interest in running for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022. Although many Republican leaders have been the country’s strictest prohibitionists, legalization is widespread among voters of both parties. Reaching the aisle to stand up for the cause could separate Laughlin from his main GOP rivals and signal his ability to get things done with executives from both parties.

The positive visuals could hardly be overlooked: A black senator from the big city stood next to a white senator from the rural townships of the state who was campaigning for a common cause.

Street Laughlin Pennsylvania Marijuana LegalizationState Sharif Street (D) (left) and State Senator Dan Laughlin (R) (right) jointly lead Senate legalization efforts. (Yoko Furukawa for Leafly)

Laughlin’s acceptance of legalization can also act as a kind of political canary in a coal mine for his Republicans: If Laughlin gains visibility and votes for his point of view, it can assure his GOP colleagues that a vote in favor of regulated legalization will find a positive response their constituents at home.

Darisha Parker Legislature Pennsylvania LegalizationRep. Darisha Parker (D-Philadelphia) pointed out that social justice programs should be included in any legalization package. (Yoko Furukawa for Leafly)

Social justice in the proposed law

A number of lawmakers have expressed an interest in a legalization bill that contains tough social justice clauses, as passed in New York state late last month.

“This is what I need to see,” Rep. Darisha Parker said yesterday in reference to building social justice programs and ending the dramatic inequalities in marijuana arrests in Pennsylvania. Black residents are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white Pennsylvanians. In Perry County, just five miles from the Capitol, black residents are 28 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than whites.

New York’s stringent social justice provisions were in large part incorporated into the new legalization law because of years of education and lobbying made it possible. New York state legislation also had powerful justice advocates who spearheaded the legalization bill, including Congregation Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger.

New York also had strong Democratic majorities in both houses, and legalization was a top priority for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf (D) is committed to legalization, but both houses of state lawmakers are Republican controlled. And it is these voices that have to be won, one conversation at a time.

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

Show article by Bruce Barcott

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Beth Edmonds