Pennsylvania senators propose legislation to end pot prohibition

Mar 20, 2019

Pennsylvania State Sens. Daylin Leach and Sharif Street announced legislation on March 18 that would end the prohibition of cannabis in the Keystone State.

Leach and Street’s proposed legislation would establish political protocol for the legal sale, consumption, and regulation of marijuana for adult-use.

“We’ve had a cruel, irrational, and expensive policy on cannabis for more than 80 years,” Leach said in a joint statement with Street. “Prohibition has destroyed countless lives and has cost our taxpayers millions of dollars.

“It’s time we walk into the bright sunshine of enlightenment and stop arresting our kids and funding violent drug cartels. This will be a tough battle, but so was passing medical marijuana. We did that, and we will do this. The stakes are too high for us to fail,” Leach concluded.

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Street concurred, adding “An end to the prohibition of cannabis is overdue. It is time for us to join the emerging cannabis economy with the legalization of the Adult Use of Cannabis in PA., which should not be a crime when responsibly used by adults nor mandate medical oversight.”

Street also added that the economic and social implications of legalizing recreational marijuana were too big to ignore.

“The economic imperatives are too great. We also have a moral mandate to correct the damage that disparate enforcement of our Marijuana Laws has done and is still doing to communities across the commonwealth,” Street stated.

Leach and Street sent their legislative proposal to their colleagues in the State Senate in the form of a memo. In the coming weeks, all state senators may register as co-sponsors to the proposal.

After the co-sponsorship sign-up is complete, Leach and Street will formally introduce the pot policy’s language and the proposal will be numbered and assigned to a legislative committee for review and consideration.

Pennsylvania’s political pot proposal

The proposed co-sponsored legislation, although currently in memo-form, would legally allow for the recreational use of cannabis by adults over the age of 21 and would allow individuals to grow up to six plants for personal consumption.

The proposal, in its current language, is also strongly worded in favor of restorative justice and equitable licensing practices. According to the memo’s Press Release, the proposed bill would establish “a tiered system of licenses for growers with lower barriers to entry in order to allow those with more limited resources to enter the cannabis industry as entrepreneurs.”

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“We’re fighting to create an adult-use cannabis program where individuals harmed by prohibition and small Pennsylvanian farms and businesses will have the opportunity to not only participate in the industry, but to profit from it,” Leach said.

Like other legalization bills, this bill would call for the automatic expungement of previous criminal convictions of cannabis-related offenses.

Pittsburgh NORML Executive Director Patrick Nightingale also registered his support for the proposed legislation.

“Cannabis prohibition was built on lies and racism and has resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering criminal convictions merely because they chose a plant instead of an alcoholic beverage,” Nightingale said in the memo’s Press Release.

“Adult-use reform will save almost 200,000 Pennsylvanians from arrest and prosecution annually. Reform will also help affected Pennsylvanians expunge cannabis-related offenses from their record,” Nightingale concluded.

The proposed bill would require that the majority of tax revenue from the sale of cannabis be used for public education. Pennsylvania school districts could choose how they would disperse their portion of the revenue between the new school funding formula and property tax relief.

“We are confident that an open and honest conversation about the risks and rewards of adult-use reform will help those critical of legalization to understand that it can be done responsibly and in a manner that protects our youth and our motorists,” Nightingale said.

Legislative authors’ history with hash

This isn’t the first time that Leach and Street have gone to the legislative bat for cannabis. Back in 2016, Leach wrote the bill legalizing medical marijuana. The bill was signed into law as Act 16 of 2016.

In 2017, Leach attempted to do the same for recreational cannabis use with Senate Bill 213; unfortunately, the bill failed.

Street, meanwhile, was tackling decriminalization and farming rights for cannabis growers. In 2017, Street introduced Senate Bill 125, addressing the decriminalization of cannabis in Pennsylvania. He also introduced Senate Resolution 421, a resolution which urged the United States Congress to pass the 2018 Farm Bill that would have included the Hemp Farming Act of 2018.

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“Over the last year and a half, Sen. Street and I have met with hundreds of Pennsylvanians and dozens of advocates, experts, and stakeholders who have spent countless hours fighting and studying prohibition,” Leach said.

“I’ve attended more than 20 conferences around the country on the topic, and Sen. Street even hosted his own conference on the issue last year where the focus was on minority participation in the new industry.

“We’ve used all of that input, and the data collected from all the other states already doing this, to create legislation that we’re confident can pass the Senate and will create an efficient new industry that is good for all Pennsylvanians,” Leach concluded.

What are the odds of the legislation passing?

According to Leach’s and Street’s joint Press Release, nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvanians support the end of pot-prohibition. As Pen. has joined the ranks of states that have legalized medical cannabis, more voters are in support of having their state partake in a pro-pot economy.

Legislators aren’t the only political players entering the cannabis political frey. State Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is currently conducting a county-by-county listening tour to measure current public opinion on the issue of marijuana legalization.

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Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has even estimated that the Keystone State is leaving more than $500 million in potential annual revenue on the table by not participating in the cannabis economy.

The memo argues that due to these reasons, taking on pot politically is the only rational option.

“Cannabis prohibition is an immoral and expensive failure of public policy. Given the pernicious consequences of prohibition, the approval of cannabis legalization by more than 60 percent of Pennsylvanians in recent polls, and the fact that states across the country, including neighboring states such as New York and New Jersey, are ending prohibition, we believe this is a propitious time to act.”

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