Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has indicated a willingness to consider the legalization of recreational marijuana. In a question and answer session with voters on Twitter on Wednesday, Wolf said that the experience with cannabis legalization in other states could serve as a guide.
“More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, and Pennsylvania should learn from their efforts,” Wolf said.
Wolf, who was elected to a second term by voters in the midterm elections last month, noted that legalizing recreational marijuana will have to be initiated by the state legislature.
“Any change would take legislation,” Wolf added. “But I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.”
Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives are currently controlled by a Republican majority. As Wolf begins his new term in January, he will be joined at the Capitol by cannabis legalization advocate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania legalized the medicinal use of cannabis with bipartisan legislation that Wolf signed in 2016. He has overseen the implementation of the state’s new medical marijuana program, including the opening of the first licensed dispensary earlier this year. This month, regulators with the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board approved a process for adding new qualifying conditions to expand access to the program.
Decriminalization Bill Tabled
When Wolf first ran for governor in 2014, he called for the decriminalization of less than one ounce of marijuana. He stopped short of advocating for full legalization, however, saying he wanted to see if other states could successfully legalize cannabis.
In October, a bill that would have decriminalized marijuana, HB 928, stalled in the legislature after succeeding in a House Judiciary Committee vote by a margin of 14-9. The bill would have decriminalized the possession of less than 30 grams, or about one ounce, of cannabis. Currently, possession of marijuana is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and a suspension of driving privileges.
Republican Rep. Barry Jozwiak, the sponsor of the bill, is a retired state trooper and the former sheriff of Berks County, Pennsylvania. He said that decriminalization would free up scarce resources for more serious crime.
“Downgrading this offense from a misdemeanor to a summary offense would have a positive effect on local law enforcement efforts, allowing police and prosecutors to focus their time and resources on more serious offenses,” Jozwiak said.
Jozwiak used the area he represents as an example of the effort and expense required to prosecute possession of small amounts of cannabis as a crime.
“Last year, in Berks County, there were 632 cases of possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana,” noted Jozwiak. “These cases cost over $1.5 million dollars to prosecute and brought in only $126,000 in fines. In most cases, each fine was $200 or less. I’m sure this is the same in other counties. This bill will reduce the workload in the court system, save millions of dollars, and allows police to file citations at the local district justice level.”