A bipartisan pair of Pennsylvania senators announced on Friday that they will soon file a bill to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth.
Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D), who’ve partnered on cannabis reform in previous sessions, shared some details about the forthcoming proposal, which would create a commercial marijuana market for adults 21 and older, in a co-sponsorship memo seeking support from colleagues as they prepare to introduce it.
“Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity,” Laughlin said in a press release.
“With neighboring states New Jersey and New York implementing adult use, we have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult use marijuana to avoid losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs,” he said.
While the bill hasn’t been officially filed and the text is not yet available, the senators said that it would “improve upon our proposal from last session.” They described the effort as a “bipartisan approach to legalize adult use marijuana in Pennsylvania.”
Daw Fidler, Laughlin’s legislative director, told Marijuana Moment in an email that the bill is “currently a work in progress” and that the offices “have some changes and updates that we are still working through based off” of the legalization measure they filed last session.
“We are intending to have a bill introduced in June—probably closer to the end of June,” she said. “Once it is introduced and referred to committee, we will work with the committee and stakeholders on any further items that would need to be addressed before a committee vote when they return to session in the fall.”
The senators’ press release says the forthcoming legislation would prioritize public safety, giving law enforcement the ability to “adjudicate” impaired driving and empower them to “eradicate” the illicit market.
Further, the legislation would allow medical cannabis patients to grow their own plants, prohibit marketing that targets youth and “set workplace requirements regarding marijuana use for all those operating in good faith.”
There will also be social equity provisions facilitating expungements for prior marijuana convictions and prioritizing licensing for people most harmed by the drug war, the senators said. They added that the framework will provide “room for new and existing licensees to ensure demand in Pennsylvania is met” and will contain measures aimed at “empowering farmers and craft growers across the state to engage in the cultivation of marijuana in a manner that is safe and regulated.”
Street said that the state has “a unique and singular opportunity to correct decades of mass incarceration, disproportionate enforcement against marginalized communities, the criminalization of personal choice and the perpetuation of violence, which all materialized from the failed war on drugs.”
“Legalizing the adult use of cannabis will help us fully and equitably fund education, lower property taxes, and address a variety of community needs throughout Pennsylvania,” he said.
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In the co-sponsorship memo, the senators emphasized that polling shows adult-use legalization “is supported by two-thirds of Pennsylvanians and has majority support in rural, suburban, and urban legislative districts.”
“New Jersey and New York have implemented adult use,” and so it’s “our duty to taxpayers to seize the initiative and legalize marijuana concurrently with bordering states,” they said.
“Failure to do so risks permanently ceding hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue as well as thousands of jobs at a time when taxpayers can least afford it,” the senators wrote to colleagues. “In February 2021 Appropriations hearings, the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office projected the legalization of marijuana for adult use will generate $400 million to $1 billion in new tax revenue for the Commonwealth.”
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania House lawmakers also recently filed separate bills to legalize marijuana sales through state-run stores and to provide permits for farmers and small agriculture businesses to cultivate cannabis once adult-use sales are allowed.
Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) supports enacting cannabis reform and proposed to legalize and tax adult-use marijuana as part of his 2023-2024 budget request in March.
The prospects of enacting legalization increased in the Keystone State after Democrats took control of the House following last year’s election. Republicans have maintained control of the Senate, however, but there are certain GOP members like Laughlin and Mike Regan (R) who’ve backed reform.
In February, Laughlin also sent a letter to state law enforcement, urging officials to take steps to protect gun rights for cannabis consumers, particularly medical marijuana patients, in light of a federal court’s recent ruling on the issue.
Meanwhile, Reps. Dan Frankel (D) and Donna Bullock (D) circulated a cosponsorship memo in January about forthcoming cannabis legalization legislation.
Street, who is sponsoring the yet-to-be-filed legalization bill, took some advocates by surprise recently by joining other senators in urging a federal court not to authorize an overdose prevention site site in Philadelphia, while supporting a proposal to ban the harm reduction centers statewide.
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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis/Side Pocket Images.