Should the city charter call for marijuana legalization in Pa.? (Ballot question)

There’s already a slew of state legislation this year around this issue, backed by both Democrats and Republicans.

Andy Colwell for Billy Penn

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In 2014, Philadelphia City Council decriminalized possession of small amounts of weed, but the city itself doesn’t have the power to legalize recreational use. That decision lies with Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in Harrisburg.

Pot legalization is far from a longshot in Pennsylvania. Nationwide, 17 states have legalized recreational marijuana sale and use since Colorado became the first state to do so in 2012. Governor Tom Wolf has championed cannabis legalization as a way to generate additional revenue for the state’s COVID-19 relief efforts, and Lt. Governor/U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman has long been an advocate.

The Pa. General Assembly has seen a slew of legislation this year around marijuana legalization, proposed and backed by both Democrats and Republicans in what have been the first bipartisan efforts in the state legislature to become the 19th state in the U.S. to legalize weed.

With this question, you can decide whether to send a message from the city to the state legislature to take action on legalizing the sale of marijuana and recreational use for adults 21 and older.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that would decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes?

What it means

A “yes” vote means the Home Rule Charter, which functions as the city’s constitution, would be amended to include language urging the Pa. General Assembly to allow licensed dispensaries to operate in the state, subject to regulation and taxation, and permit state residents aged 21 and older to purchase marijuana and engage in recreational use. Recreational use and sale of marijuana would no longer be a crime.

The additional wording in the city’s charter would not change anything regarding the use and sale of weed in Philadelphia, but it would make the city’s stance on cannabis legalization clear. A vote “yes” means that statewide pot legalization is supported by Philadelphia residents. A vote “no” indicates that it’s not.

Advocates view legalization of weed as not just an economic boon, generating up to billions of dollars in tax revenue, but also as a significant step forward in criminal justice reform.

Though mairjuana has been decriminalized in Philadelphia, and District Attorney Larry Krasner directed DAs to not pursue criminal charges for those found in possession of marijuana, pot usage can still be used as a reason to send people back to incarceration from probation.

The racial disparities in enforcement of laws restricting the use and sale of marijuana are stark. Nationwide, a disproportionate number of Black people are still arrested for the recreational use and sale of weed. According to data from 2015 to 2018, even after marijuana had been decriminalized in Philadelphia, Black people still made up 76% of arrests for marijuana possession, despite representing less than half of the total population.

For many of the politicians, community leaders, and advocates that support marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, a focus on racial equity in a newly legal cannabis industry is key, and an emphasis on immediate criminal expungement for those who are incarcerated for or who have been charged with marijuana possession in the past is necessary.

What else is on the ballot

Click through for an explanation on each initiative you’ll vote on Nov. 2.

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