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The discussion over medical and recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania continues. Photo: Susan L. Angstad / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle via Getty Images.
The discussion over medical and recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania continues. Photo: Susan L. Angstad / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle via Getty Images.

In second Pa. Senate panel on recreational marijuana use, discussions continue while criticisms arise

Last month, discussion began again in a Pennsylvania Senate committee on legalizing marijuana It’s the first time they were led by the GOP.

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On Monday, Feb. 7, a Pennsylvania Senate committee led by Republicans entered discussions on the state of marijuana and its potential legalization for adult use. It was the first time Republicans had ever taken a lead on the issue.

Taken up by the Senate Law and Justice Committee, PA Gov. Tom Wolf supports the proposed marijuana reform. The governor is calling decriminalization and restorative justice measures a necessity for a reform bill.

Overall, law enforcement, local lawmakers, and stakeholders alike have been open to discussing recreational use in adults.

These groups have discussed impaired driving, effects on police, and the logistics of creating a regulated market when illicit ones already exist.

Sen. Mike Regan (R) is the committee’s chair. Regan and Rep. Amen Brown (D) worked together last year in distributing a co-sponsorship memo for the reform.

In discussing illicit markets, Brown concluded that ending marijuana prohibition will not immediately remove the markets, but would still work to send black markets in a “different direction.” 

On Monday, March 14, the Senate panel met once again to continue discussions.

Sen. Judy Ward (R) of Blair County called the proposed reform a large policy shift deserving of more input from drug and alcohol professionals, chiefs of police, and business community representatives. 

“These hearings have been extensive… But it’s only presented one side of the argument,” said Ward after the Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing.

One recurring point made by cannabis industry representatives is the idea of removing PA’s current medical marijuana program from the state’s Department of Health and allowing a single authority to oversee medical and recreational marijuana pursuits. 

“This new industry needed its own regulatory authority to oversee the complicated nature of the business without distracting other agencies from their core missions,” said Jamie Ware, the chair of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition.

Deborah Miran, the former commissioner of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, also acknowledged how recreational marijuana can become a detriment to a state’s medical marijuana program, as has happened in other states.

Perhaps the biggest pushback during Monday’s panel came from the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative nonprofit organization dedicated to “representing” family values. 

The nonprofit called the panel a “one-sided debate where each panel was dominated by the marijuana industry and lobby, many of whom stand to profit directly from more use of this harmful drug.”

As a parallel, Regan’s intent to pursue marijuana legalization came from his time as a former U.S. marshal, where he observed the prominence of organized crime in areas where marijuana was illicit.

This prominence, according to Regan, led to the lacing of marijuana with toxic additives. 

The second hearing on legal, recreational marijuana use for PA adults concluded the series of discussions. Conversation over the topic has and will continue to ferment in various spaces.

Last Fall, another bipartisan duo, Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D), garnered attention for their push of patient-grown medical marijuana.

The two senators’ intent was underscored by a need for patients to retain access to medical marijuana without the typically hefty cost of dispensaries. 

With the panel’s second hearing wrapped, hopes continue for discussions that move the legalization of recreational marijuana forward.

Several members of the panel are confident that PA legalizing recreational marijuana is an inevitability.

Many lawmakers and politicians are on the side of recreational marijuana right next to Gov. Wolf. The general support expands outside these officials to residents.

Last November in Philadelphia, via a ballot question, 72.73% of voters approved of the city’s push for state lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana.

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