Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Invites Cannabis Legalization Debate Among Lawmakers

On Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf again reiterated his desire for state lawmakers to debate, and hopefully pass, cannabis legalization for adult use. This call comes one week after Wolf unveiled his fall legislative priorities, including legalization, and a little over one year after Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman held a news conference at the capitol to urge the General Assembly to act on legalization. 

During Thursday’s news conference, Wolf said, “In the past year, the legislature has failed to find time to debate and pass adult use cannabis, even though this is an issue that affects thousands of Pennsylvanians through our criminal justice system right now. And it can provide millions of dollars in much needed revenue at a time when we desperately need that revenue.” 

Wolf added that he is “renewing that call because I think now more than ever, especially right in the middle of this pandemic, we have a desperate need for the economic boost that the legalization of cannabis could provide.”

Pennsylvania leadership conducted perhaps the country’s most comprehensive outreach on legalization with Fetterman’s listening tour of all 67 Pennsylvania counties. While the feedback was “not intended to be a scientific sampling,” roughly 65-70% of Pennsylvanians who attended these public meetings expressed support for legalization. Many of these areas were distinctly red-leaning, Fetterman said Thursday. 

“I pitched this to our red counties, our Republican-led counties. Our farmers need a cash crop. Now, our small counties need an economic boost and they need employability,” Fetterman said. 

Wolf gave an overview of how legalization has unfolded in states like Colorado and Washington, noting the hundreds of millions in cannabis sales, and the secondary economic impact, including job growth, that cannabis legalization has brought. 

Wolf said, based on what Fetterman heard during the listening tour, he wants to earmark grants for “historically disadvantaged businesses.” 

“I think that that would be a really important thing right now in the middle of this pandemic, because many of these businesses have had difficulties obtaining other assistance because of systemic issues,” Wolf said. “Another portion of this revenue could go toward restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done through all those years when marijuana was criminalized.” 

Understanding that it might be time-consuming, and difficult, to get the Republican-controlled General Assembly to move on legalization, Wolf said he’s also asking the General Assembly to “pursue criminal justice reform policies that restore justice for people convicted of cannabis-related offenses,” aimed at being retroactive so past cannabis-related crimes would be sealed. 

It appears that New Jersey is providing some peer pressure and talking points for why legalization is right for Pennsylvanians, right now. New Jersey voters will see legalization on their ballots this fall, as Cannabis Wire has reported, and if polling is any indicator, it will pass. 

“Many Pennsylvanians are traveling to other states where adult use cannabis is actually legal. They’re spending their money there. And we’re missing out on the economic benefits and the tax revenues that could be coming to us right now,” Wolf said. 

Fetterman, speaking directly about some lawmakers who have been against legalization, reiterated the economic opportunity to a state that’s been struggling through the pandemic.  

“I would challenge anyone, my most intensely opposed critics, to name one other policy decision that could have so much immediate impact and so much unambiguous benefit, to our Treasury, to our employment statewide, to our social justice concerns that we have on the uneven enforcement, as well as to our farmers,” Fetterman said.  

At the end, Wolf and Fetterman fielded a handful of questions from reporters, including one who said she spoke to the House Republican Caucus this morning, and they relayed that legalization was not a “recovery plan.” 

“I think, quite frankly, they’re trying to deflect because they know it’s popular,” Fetterman said. “They know a significant majority of all Pennsylvanians want this.” 

Another reporter asked whether Wolf had engaged in meaningful discussions or negotiations with Republican leaders in the General Assembly. State Senator Sharif Street, who represents a district that includes most of Philadelphia, said that he wouldn’t “out” Republican colleagues, but that he’s had a number of discussions with lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.

“I believe that if there were a vote, there will be a significant number of Republicans prepared to go forward,” Street said. 

“There are three bills, but they’re languishing. And that’s why we’re having this press conference,” Wolf said. “I’m inviting that kind of conversation to start. We haven’t had anything. It’s been dead silence.” 

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