Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s Democrat governor who’s signaled openness towards recreational cannabis legalization, has OK’d a series of town hall meetings to explore the future of marijuana in the state. His recently sworn-in lieutenant governor John Fetterman will be spearheading the 67-county listening tour, the natural next step given Fetterman’s pro-pot campaign promises from last year.
“We are actually trying to figure out this issue, where the people of Pennsylvania are, what is it we can learn from them in terms of what we ought to be doing here,” ABC6 Action News reports Wolf saying at a news conference on Thursday. Wolf made the initial announcement about the town halls earlier that day at an Associated Press interview.
“I am looking forward to the culturally conservative areas,” Fetterman told Pittsburgh City Paper. “I am excited to hear these views.” The lieutenant governor explained that the ambitious survey project was an attempt to get away from “echo chambers” when envisioning the form cannabis could take in Pennsylvania. It’s also a way in which for him to prioritize areas that may not be fully won over when it comes to recreational cannabis in the state.
Fetterman says he wants to open the door to bi-partisan communication, despite the fact that many Republicans have come out against further regulation of cannabis.
“I am happy to meet with any representative and they will be invited,” he said. “I would be honored to share a stage with state [Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman]. This is about listening.” Corman has gone on record calling the legalization of recreational cannabis “reckless and irresponsible.”
Wolf, now in his second term, has his own record of supporting marijuana legalization. During his administration in 2016, the state got its first medical cannabis program, with its first dispensary opening at the start of 2018. Last month, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board approved a process that could expand the list of qualifying conditions to become a medical marijuana patient.
Under Wolf’s guidance, Pennsylvania is also licensing commercial hemp farmers, in accordance with the recently passed US Farm Bill.
It may be an uphill battle getting the state’s legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, to approve recreational cannabis laws— despite a 2017 poll that reported 59 percent of Pennsylvanians are in favor of pot legalization. But Pennsylvania’s laws do not permit any ballot referendum that would make it possible to bypass the legislature via the creation of new bills.
But between popular opinion and the promise of legalization’s financial gains, Republicans may soon be feeling the squeeze. In July, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced that the state could face a $1 billion financial shortfall — which could partly be assuaged by the $580 million in tax revenue the state could reap from recreational cannabis.
“Pennsylvania’s budget challenges are now a consistent factor in all state policy decisions,” wrote DePasquale in that summertime report. ”Taxing marijuana offers a rare glimmer of fiscal hope, providing a way to refocus the state budget process away from filling its own gaps.”