Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street leads Democratic call for cannabis legalization in light of lagging revenues due to COVID-19

Jul 9, 2020

Sen. Sharif Street of Pennsylvania led a group of 14 Democratic State Senators in urging the government to legalize adult-use cannabis on Thursday, arguing that such a move would bolster state coffers in light of lost revenues due to COVID-19 and the resulting quarantines.

The “gang of fourteen” authored a letter which they presented to the legislature stating that the projected revenue impact of the coronavirus is “dire.” According to the senators, it is estimated that the state’s General Fund will lose $3.9 billion due to COVID-19. That number includes $2.1 billion to be shifted to the next fiscal year aa well as $1.8 billion lost due to a lack of economic activity.

“We should do absolutely everything we can to raise revenue,” stated the letter. “That is why we come together as a committed group of Pennsylvania Senators to urge our leaders to take up the bi-partisan issue of adult-use cannabis legalization.”

As the letter noted, cannabis legalization enjoys broad support among Pennsylvanians. A survey of state residents released in May concurred, showing that 62 percent of voters agree that cannabis should be sold for recreational purposes. Unlike most anything else in politics, cannabis legalization has bipartisan support, with conservatives, moderates, and liberals all in favor.

“Statewide majorities of conservatives, moderates and liberals believe allowing the sale of adult-use cannabis is an idea whose time has come,” said Bob Pease of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition in a statement back in May. “Allowing adult-use will create jobs, generate tax revenue, displace an illicit market and increase consumer protections.” 

Street and his fellow Democrats estimate that an adult-use market could generate around  $581 million in annual tax revenue. 

“Once again, the single most important goal we should have right now is ensuring we can continue to provide for the communities of Pennsylvania,” the letter stated. “Through legalizing adult-use cannabis, we can protect Pennsylvanians from harmful tax hikes and spending cuts and raise new revenue to continue providing vital services and assistance for our constituents. We urge you to consider this issue during this year’s budget negotiations, and work with us to enact a responsible budget that will benefit all Pennsylvanians.”

Most importantly, the group called for legalization as an end to the ongoing War on Drugs and over-policing of Black communities. Street and his team noted that Black Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes, even though they use the drug no more than their white counterparts.

“Hispanic Americans, too, face disproportionate arrest rates, and in terms of sentencing both black and Hispanic Americans face average sentences longer than those of white Americans convicted of the same wrongdoing,” the letter read. “This is damaging to communities and families and a waste of valuable resources. Legalizing adult-use cannabis will not only save the Commonwealth money but will bring much-needed justice to those who have suffered the most under the impact of prohibition.”

In a tweet earlier today, Sen. Street said the time for legalization is now.

“The end of cannabis prohibition is long overdue in PA. Proud to be joined by 14 @PAsenateDems colleagues to urge the legislature to take up this issue as soon as possible and help move Pennsylvania forward,” wrote Street. “It’s time.”

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