Want to buy a dime bag at the state store? Now would be the time to write your state assemblyman. State Rep. Jordan Harris’ marijuana legalization would make that possible. He tells Billy Penn a draft of the bill should be released in about two weeks.
As the Philly Voice reported, Harris is looking for co-sponsors on a bill that would allow Pennsylvanians to consume tree recreationally. Aside from selling herb in state stores, other standout features to the proposed legislation will include only the sale of Pennsylvania-grown marijuana, and allowing residents with lesser offenses on their criminal records to compete for jobs within the industry, according to Harris.
Having medical marijuana legal is something that opens the path for recreational marijuana, if you ask Harris or marijuana-proponent State Senator Daylin Leach. But if you’re the betting type, the safe money would be on Harris’ bill struggling in the GOP-dominated legislature, as Leach’s did. So how will Harris rally support?
“I was one of the folks who led the charge on criminal record expungement in Pennsylvania. The same way I advocated for that, the same I worked across the aisle with colleagues to build consensus is the same way I’ll do this,” he tells Billy Penn. “I’m not going to say that this is going to happen in two months. It may not even happen in session. But now that medical marijuana is done, now that wine will be in our grocery stores, I think now is the time to ratchet up the conversation about how do we actually do this?”
In the state’s two largest cities, marijuana has already been decriminalized. Neither cities’ policies can supersede state law, though; Philadelphians can still wind up in court on criminal charges if a state trooper stops them for weed possession, rather than Philly’s $25 ticket for a small amount of marijuana or $100 ticket for smoking in public. Pittsburgh, as Mayor Bill Peduto points out, does not have an office that can process civil fines. “The city’s ordinance does all it can under existing state law,” Peduto said in a statement. “The fact is that full decriminalization of small marijuana offenses must be done at the state level, as must be its approval for medical uses.”
Mark A.R. Kleiman, a leading expert on marijuana policy, critiqued Philadelphia’s policy in a Billy Penn interview in April. He called it “maybe progress,” but said the drug should simply be legalized rather than issuing fines that wind up, in large part, uncollected. Philadelphia sends uncollected fines to a collections agency. Kleiman considers this “much, much worse” than sending smokers to court over past due fees.
He expanded on his concerns in an email yesterday. “The point of a fine should be to discourage bad behavior, not to make money,” he wrote. “Collections agencies don’t operate in the public interest.”
According to a Quinnipiac poll released last month, 57 percent of Pennsylvanians support the legalization of recreational marijuana, and 81 percent of the state’s millennials do. But this doesn’t mean the bill will have an easy time. The current medical marijuana law only covers 17 conditions and has been criticized for its narrowness.
Harris is already co-sponsoring a bill that would make possession of a small amount of marijuana a summary offense rather than a misdemeanor. But it would make fines higher. currently the maximum fine is $500. That would become the minimum fine and would scale up for later offenses. Harris says he’d like to amend the language to make the fines lower.
He says that he’s been working with PhillyNORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, on estimates for how much money recreational marijuana could bring to the state. But then he adds that just looking at the pot might be shortsighted.
“You’re talking about all the products that can be made from industrial-strength hemp [too.] There’s so many avenues.” He mentions cost-savings for the criminal justice system. He recalls meeting a woman with a marijuana-sauce based catering service on a trip to Colorado. “I think people look at this the wrong way,” says Harris. “This is not just ‘we do this, and we get $200 or $300 million.’ No, no, no. This is new industry.”