Pennsylvania may soon join the ranks of states with legalized recreational marijuana. Pennsylvania House of Representatives member, Jake Wheatley, introduced the bill that would legalize marijuana in the state. Rep. Wheatley unveiled his plan during a press conference. The bill is concerned with using and possessing the drug specifically for recreational purposes.
The bill covers several issues dealing with marijuana. One such issue concerns the immediate release of prisoners jailed for possessing the drug. The bill also calls for the reinstatement of driver’s and professional licenses that were suspended or revoked because of marijuana possession.
Wheatley’s bill goes even further by expunging marijuana-related criminal records. Rep. Wheatley feels that the Pennsylvania criminal justice system is unfairly harsh on residents caught with marijuana. And states that minorities suffer the most under this unjust treatment. Expunging such criminal histories would give those accused a new lease on life.
The legalization of marijuana isn’t an unfamiliar topic for Pennsylvania residents. In 2016, the state legalized medical marijuana. And is in the process of expanding the medical marijuana program statewide. Rep. Wheatley feels it’s the perfect time to go ahead and decriminalize the use of recreational marijuana. But he states that under his bill, the public use of marijuana will remain illegal. Driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal as well.
Recent polls show that most Pennsylvania residents support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. A 2017 poll by Franklin & Marshall indicated that almost 57 percent of voters support legalization of marijuana. And Republicans and Democrats both show a similar level of support for such legislation. A separate poll performed by Wheatley put voter support even higher at more than 60 percent.
Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania Auditor General, also endorses the push to legalize recreational marijuana. DePasquale states that marijuana taxes could generate $500 to $600 million in yearly revenue for the state. The bill would offer growers an exemption for partnering with state farmers.
Wheatley says that the state would greatly benefit from the taxes. Eighty-five percent of the revenue from sales, retail tax, and wholesale could help fund several state activities. And the remaining 15 percent could go to the Department of Corrections. The Pennsylvania dispensary revenue and funds could help with projects that help newly-released prisoners re-enter society, workforce development, and mentoring programs.
Wheatley became concerned when he learned that Pennsylvania has shown an increase in marijuana arrests. There was a 33 percent increase between 2010 and 2016. Statistics also show that African-Americans in the state are more likely to face arrest than white people facing the same possession charges. And data also shows that usage rates are practically the same among different races, but that African-Americans are punished more often.
In 2016, Rep. Jordan Harris presented a similar plan to legalize recreational marijuana. Harris’ proposal included the selling of marijuana in state liquor stores. But as with the previous bill, not everyone is onboard with the idea.
Gov. Tom Wolf doesn’t believe legalizing recreational marijuana is the right move for Pennsylvania. He believes more research is in order to see how passing such a bill has affected other states. In August, Wheatley started a petition to measure support for his bill. The petition received more than 8,000 signatures.
Wheatley feels the benefits of legalizing the drug for recreational use are too great to ignore. And that the state is wasting billions of dollars in potential revenue that could balance the budget. Wheatley’s bill has gained the support of 12 co-sponsors.