Back in February, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman kicked off a statewide listening tour to engage the public and gather input on the issue of legalizing cannabis for adult use. Lt. Gov. Fetterman vowed to visit all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. And on Monday, he presented the feedback he gathered from his stops in the 50 counties he’s been able to visit so far. Speaking before the joint House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee, Fetterman reported that most residents support legalizing marijuana.
Statewide Listening Tour Reveals 60-70 Percent of Pennsylvanians Support Legal Weed
Plenty of national and statewide polls have been conducted to gauge public support, or lack thereof, for marijuana polic reform. Virtually all of those polls place broad support for cannabis legalization in the majority. They just differ on the size of that majority, measuring it either in the 60-percent range (for adult-use legalization) or the 80-percent range for some form of legalization. A better indicator might be the amount of people who support criminalizing cannabis, a number that continues to dwindle rapidly.
But Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman didn’t want to rely on poll data. Instead, he wanted to hear directly from Pennsylvania residents themselves. So in February, he embarked on a tour to hold public hearings on adult-use legalization in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Fetterman began the tour knowing that a majority of Pennsylvanians already support adult-use legalization, in line with the national average. So he decided to start his tour in the state’s more conservative counties, where opposition to legalization was likely to be strongest.
But after visiting 50 Pennsylvania counties, beginning with the most conservative, Fetterman says that between 60 and 70 percent of people support legalizing recreational cannabis. In fact, Fetterman told the joint democratic policy committee that just two counties registered less than 50 percent support for legal adult cannabis use.
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Those who opposed cannabis legalization, however, mostly shared similar arguments with Fetterman. They brought up their concerns about upticks in impaired driving, even though there is little data and even less evidence that legalization negatively impacts traffic safety. Opponents also brought up the widely debunked “gateway theory” as a reason for continuing to prohibit cannabis.
Other concerns centered on how legalization would impact minors and young people, though its unclear how legalization would make underage drug consumption more of a problem than it currently is under prohibition.
Pennsylvania’s legalization advocates knew Fetterman would encounter these oppositional perspectives. So they followed him on his tour, hoping to educate people and challenge the long-standing stigmas at the root of opposition to cannabis legalization.
In one county, their work was easy. Fetterman reported to lawmakers Monday that at one listening tour stop in Lehigh County, support for legalization was unanimous.
Despite Public Support, Pennsylvania Gov. Won’t Take Stance on Legalization
Despite the broad public backing for legalization, however, Lt. Gov. Fetterman says Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf does not yet have a stance on the issue. But lawmakers are moving forward with their effort to legalize cannabis this year anyway. There are already a couple of bills pending in the Legislature, like SB 350, that would legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use in the state.
Those bills also represent a progressive push for marijuana reform. They include criminal record expungement, prison sentence commutation, and dropping all pending marijuana-related misdemeanor cases.
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