The debate over marijuana use for recreational purposes continues in Pennsylvania. The Governor of Vermont just signed a bill making it legal, joining eight other states along with the District of Columbia in adopting laws legalizing recreational pot. Some wonder, why not make Pennsylvania the next state?

WAYNE/PIKE - The debate over marijuana use for recreational purposes continues in Pennsylvania. The Governor of Vermont just signed a bill making it legal, joining eight other states along with the District of Columbia in adopting laws legalizing recreational pot. Some wonder, why not make Pennsylvania the next state?

In a press release dated January 23, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Pennsylvania cannot afford to lose out on economic and social benefits from marijuana legalization as public support grows and more states allow possession of small amounts for personal use.
To get a sense of local opinions, the question on whether recreational marijuana should be legal in Pennsylvania was posted on The News Eagle’s Facebook page.

Poll results

A poll was also posted, and results were nearly evenly split, with a narrow win for those who support the issue. The poll asked a simple “Yes”- it should be made allowed, or “No”- it should not be. Although far from scientific, there were 85 votes; here are the results: YES, 54% and NO, 46%. It should be noted that being placed on Facebook, the poll did not reach the members of the public not accessing Facebook.

Of those leaving comments, however, only one person spoke up who was opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.

The question was also poised to the state senator and three state representatives whose districts cover at least parts Wayne or Pike counties. All Republican, they each expressed their disfavor for legalizing recreational marijuana at this time.

Comments from the public

This view, taken by Tom Geffers, stated, “For $200 million in tax dollars to expand government, we are going to expose our citizens to ‘dope’. We have a drug epidemic in this State and most addicts will tell you they started with marijuana. Nice trade off. Addicts and deaths for more $$$.”

Steven Wanamaker directly replied.

He commented that if marijuana is a “gateway drug” to heroine, it is only because marijuana is currently illegal which puts a person around lawbreakers in order to acquire it.

“Buying anything on the black market makes you susceptible to offerings of other illegal goods/services,” Wanamaker said. “Drug dealers are just illegal 'business men' and in some case addicts as well. They're pushing the upsell just like that car salesman trying to get you into a Lamborghini when you make five dollars an hour. And I'm not talking about pot dealers, I'm talking about drug dealers. In an open legalized marketplace, consumers would not subject themselves to meeting drug dealers who may be offering multiple drugs, but rather have a safe environment to get their medicine, which has been proven to assist with some ailments and medical issues.”

Other comments received also favored its legalization.

“Tax it,” said Michael Giovanni. “Bring in much needed money into the state. Tax and control it.”

Michelle Krol-Nuss commented, “Marijuana is safer than alcohol, Marijuana helps with insomnia / medical issues, states who are onboard already are doing fine, easy to grow, environmentally safe and friendly, MAJOR reduction on prisons and savings judicially. It's not lethal, basically our medicine is derived from plant, why should this be any different? It should be up to individual states and not the federal government. The only reason they want in is revenue.”

“It’s safer than soda,” offered Sam Martin.

“It is a plant … like every other living thing on this Earth ,God put it here,” said Frank Getz. “If God put it here that's good enough for me I smoked it been smoking it for 40 years and I'm not going to stop it's great for anxiety pain and several other issues for medical use and safer than anything else in the world. It's not a gateway to Ooher drugs people are blind open your eyes get the facts.”

“Yes I agree to make it legal, also Hemp should have never been grouped in,” said Edward Eshleman.

View of legislators

Senator Lisa Baker (R-10th) provided  her view on the subject: “Given the fact that medical marijuana has not yet been fully implemented in Pennsylvania, there is no record of experience on which we can make an informed judgment on expansion. It is therefore premature to be having a conversation about full legalization. As the record shows, I had serious misgivings about the politics getting so far in front of medical opinion. 

"While I agree that we need to reexamine some of the premises on which the decades-long war on drugs has been conducted, I am far from compelled on the wisdom or necessity of recreational marijuana. 

"Such a move would also add unnecessary confusion to the sense of purpose we must have in realigning laws, regulations, and policies to combat the devastating opioid crisis that is afflicting communities in our area and across the commonwealth.  Marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance by the federal government, and I remain concerned about the challenges presented to law enforcement in trying to police conflicting laws.”

Rep. Jonathan Friz (R-111): "I cannot support the legalization of recreational marijuana, a gateway drug, especially as our country battles its most serious public health crisis in decades – opioid addiction. Further, I am concerned about the impact of marijuana use on human brain development, which, age-wise,  continues well into one's 20s.”

Rep, Mike Peifer (R- 139): “At this point, I do not favor the legalization of recreational marijuana because the federal government classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, and we still don’t know the long-term impacts of marijuana use. Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic has now been classified as a statewide disaster emergency, and therefore I don’t believe we should be encouraging drug use of any kind. I do believe that data generated from other states will help us learn more about the long term effects of marijuana.”

Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-189): “I supported medical marijuana but legalizing  recreational use particularly as it is driven primarily by a desire for increased state revenue- is something I currently can’t support. The Denver Post proved legalization in Colorado resulted in a 145 percent increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana- 63 percent of tested drivers with THC limits above the legal limit.  Their youth marijuana use rate is also 74 percent higher than the national average.  These are serious public concerns. With that being said, legalization has also not delivered on the promise of more school funding because the revenue represents just 1.18 percent of their state budget. Until issues like these can be addressed, I cannot support this effort.”

Candidate weighed in

Democratic candidate for the 189th District, PA State House of Representatives, Christa Caceres, also weighed in.

“I support Auditor General DePasquale’s recommendation of a safe and sound introduction of legalized marijuana in our state for adults 21 and over,” she stated. “The medical benefits have been established, and states like CA and CO have seen tax revenue in the hundreds of millions while also creating jobs for their residents. With rising heroin and opioid abuse and sales in our state, law enforcement would be able to place more focus on that growing crisis. We should not criminalize it’s use, but criminalize its misuse- just as we do alcohol and cigarettes.”

Each of the candidates for the 189th District, as well as each of the state legislators serving Wayne or Pike counties, were offered an opportunity to comment. It is noted that should the legalization of recreational marijuana ever come up, it will be the elected legislators who will cast the votes.

A comment was not received from Adam Rodriguez, who is also a Democratic candidate for the 189th House District.

Auditor General elaborates

“Across the U.S., additional states are having serious conversations about the legalization of marijuana,” DePasquale said at a marijuana legalization rally January 23 in the State Capitol sponsored by NORML, the ACLU-PA and the Keystone Cannabis Coalition. “Just yesterday, Vermont’s governor signed legislation legalizing marijuana, and Pennsylvania’s neighbor to the east – New Jersey — has a new governor who has said that he would push for legalization of marijuana in his state.

“An overwhelming majority of Americans now favor marijuana legalization, and I would hate to see Pennsylvania lose out on a revenue stream and the social benefits that would be provided by moving away from the ‘Reefer Madness’ mindset,” he said.

“This is probably the most significant issues I have seen where the public and the voters are so far ahead of the politicians,” DePasquale said, noting that Gallup Polling reports 64 percent of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana for personal use. “Legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania is going to happen, but we must hold our elected officials accountable.

DePasquale noted that some roadblocks to marijuana legalization remain, particularly from Washington, D.C.

“The Trump Administration – in the form of Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions – earlier this month made the bone-headed decision to reverse a long-standing policy allowing states to legalize marijuana without repercussions from the federal government,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale said regulating and taxing marijuana could:

Pour $200 million – a conservative estimate – into Pennsylvania’s state tax revenue stream at a time when budgets are strained and there is little appetite for additional taxes; Reduce an estimated 20,000 marijuana possession arrests annually in Pennsylvania estimated to have cost at least $47 million tax dollars in 2017 alone; Help prevent some people from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and entering the potentially deadly spiral of opioid addiction; Create thousands of good paying jobs; and Reduce the loss of income and other social, personal and emotional impacts on those arrested for simply possessing a small amount of marijuana.

“Other states are already taking advantage of the opportunity for massive job creation and significant savings from reduced arrests and criminal prosecutions for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” DePasquale said. “The longer we wait, the more we will miss out on new business development, good-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians and tax revenues to support services for residents.”