Medical cannabis in PA

Gov. Wolf says Pennsylvania’s not ready for legal pot. Other elected officials disagree.

That includes the auditor general, several state legislators and the governor’s own running mate.

The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg bathed in green lights to celebrate the passage of PA's medical marijuana law in 2016

The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg bathed in green lights to celebrate the passage of PA's medical marijuana law in 2016

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr
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HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf doesn’t think Pennsylvania is “ready for recreational marijuana,” he told KDKA Radio Wednesday.

Several members of his own party disagree.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is a prominent proponent for recreational marijuana, which he predicts would bring in more than $500 million in tax revenue each year. The mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are both on board with legal weed, as are 59 percent of Pennsylvanians, per a Sept. 2017 F&M poll. So is Wolf’s running mate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

“It needs to be taken off of Schedule One,” Fetterman told The Incline in May. “It needs to stop messing up people’s parole. There is a human cost to this.”

Members of the General Assembly want legalization too, including Democratic state Rep. Jake Wheatley of Pittsburgh. He plans to introduce a bill to legalize the retail sale of pot and expunge criminal records “for any conviction now considered lawful” in the near future.

He won’t be the first legislator to propose such a measure. Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach has for years introduced legalization bills that never move out of committee.

There are also Pennsylvania Republicans who aren’t against legal weed. At a cannabis conference last year, Pa. Sen. Mike Folmer — who led the charge for medical marijuana with Leach— said he wasn’t opposed to legalization. Leach, who was accused of sexual harassment by former staffers in late 2017, said at the time if legalization “was a secret ballot, it would pass now.”

Wolf does support statewide decriminalization, which also has bipartisan support in the legislature. But like the legalization legislation, a proposal by Republican Rep. Barry Jozwiak to eliminate jail time for people caught with small amounts of pot has gone nowhere. That’s also been the fate of similar legislation from Rep. Ed Gainey, a Democrat from Allegheny County.

Even Gainey’s bill to study the *idea* of decriminalization and legalization has languished in committee.

Medical marijuana is growing

As politicians and officials debate the merits of legalization, the state’s medical marijuana program is growing.

More than 52,000 people have registered to be eligible to buy weed as medicine, according to the Pa. Department of Health. Some dispensaries recently began selling the dry leaf form of marijuana, which patients are allowed to vaporize, not smoke (that’s still illegal).

DOH also issued a new round of grower/processor permits last month as the state moves to expand access.

“Governor Wolf’s focus continues to be maximizing the impact, benefits and accessibility of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program for all patients,” his spokesperson J.J. Abbott said today by email. “The governor does not support recreational legalization but as with any policy issue, he is always willing to engage in discussions with stakeholders, including law enforcement, legislators, and public health officials.”

As Wolf focuses on Pennsylvania’s medical program, the Democratic governor of neighboring New Jersey, Phil Murphy, is pushing hard for his state to become the 10th to approve recreational marijuana.

That’s why supporters of legalized weed say the time for the commonwealth to act is now.

“New Jersey and New York are moving in that direction,” Leach told The Incline earlier this year, “and that would put great economic pressure on Pennsylvania.”

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