Wolf, Fetterman call for Legislature to take up legalization of pot to help with COVID recovery

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman have called on the legislature to take up the legalization of adult-use cannabis to help with the state’s economic recovery amid COVID-19.

The state’s leaders claim legalization will also create more outlets for important restorative justice programs in the commonwealth.

“Now more than ever, we see a desperate need for the economic boost cannabis legalization can provide. So today I am proposing we legalize adult-use cannabis here in Pennsylvania with a portion of the revenue going toward existing small business grants,” Wolf said in a statement Thursday. “Half of these grants would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses, many of which have had difficulties attaining other assistance because of systemic issues.

“The other portion of the revenue will go toward restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of cannabis criminalization.”

“It has been nearly a year since Gov. Wolf and I urged the legislature to act on immediate decriminalization and start the discussion about legalization,” Fetterman said. “Now more than ever, we must stop prosecuting people for doing something that most Pennsylvanians don’t even think should be illegal.”

Wolf also mentioned the economic benefits states with legal adult-use cannabis have realized. There are now 11 states plus the District of Columbia with legalized cannabis.

“Some states that have legalized adult-use cannabis have received millions in additional revenue,” Wolf said. “In Washington state, adult-use cannabis brought in $319 million in tax revenue in 2018. In Colorado, that figure topped $266 million, and provided the city of Aurora with $900,000 to open a space for people experiencing homelessness. And these figures don’t count the secondary economic benefits of new businesses opening.”

Some legislators have already endorsed the governor’s claims.

“Communities across our commonwealth are suffering. Government has a responsibility to provide for and protect Pennsylvanians without cutting vital support systems or levying new taxes during a pandemic,” said Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat who represents Philadelphia’s Third Senatorial District. “After years of disparate enforcement of marijuana laws, which drives mass incarceration, social justice reform must be central to any policy on adult use.”

Wolf called on the legislature to take immediate action to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, changing the charge from a misdemeanor of the third degree, which can result in jail time, to a summary offense, which does not.

Wolf and Fetterman first called on the legislature to consider adult-use cannabis legalization in September 2019 after Fetterman completed a statewide listening tour and a report back to the governor summarizing public opinion both on the tour and from tens of thousands of online submissions from Pennsylvanians.

According to Fetterman, the majority of Pennsylvanians favor legalization and three actions were outlined: a referendum on legalization, decriminalization and expungement of small possession convictions.

Since that report was released, nothing has moved forward in the legislature.

“The time has come to legalize adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “It will help our economic recovery, it will help Pennsylvania families and it will help make our criminal justice system fairer.”