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Pennsylvania Senators Seeking Co-Sponsors for Recreational Cannabis Bill

Pennsylvania Senators Daylin Leach and Sherif Street say their legalization bill would generate revenue, decrease the prison population and reduce opioid use.

Adam Drury

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Pennsylvania Senators Seeking Co-Sponsors for Recreational Cannabis Bill
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A pair of Pennsylvania senators have unveiled a plan to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana for adult use. The bill, which reads like a pot progressives’ wish list, has already stirred up high-ranking Republican opposition. But even with long odds, the legislation, which includes provisions for home grow, public consumption and release from prison, is starting off Pennsylvania’s latest push for legalization on the right foot.

Public Lounges and Release from Prison Included in Pennsylvania Senators’ Legalization Plan

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) and Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) have co-authored a bill, SB 350, to legalize cannabis. And on Monday, they circulated their joint proposal and called on colleagues to co-sponsor it. The move represents the latest effort to legalize and regulate adult-use in Pennsylvania. But unlike legislative efforts in other states, Leach and Sharif haven’t compromised-in-advance with the opponents of legalization. Instead, their bill checks nearly every box when it comes to progressive drug policy reform.

Like the 10 other U.S. states (and D.C.) with legal marijuana, Pennsylvania would set broad guidelines for personal possession and consumption for adults 21 and over. But Leach and Sharif’s bill goes much further. It would allow home cultivation of up to six mature plants and permit the home delivery of retail cannabis products. While prohibiting public consumption, SB 350 would permit licensed lounges where people can consume cannabis socially.

Perhaps most striking, however, are the criminal justice provisions of Sens. Leach and Sharif’s bill. Laws legalizing cannabis in other states all include provisions for criminal record expungement for non-violent, minor marijuana offenses. Many also require prosecutors to drop any pending marijuana cases. But SB 350 would actually get people out of jail. If passed, anyone currently incarcerated for a misdemeanor marijuana convictions would see their sentence commuted.

Legalization Bill Would Direct Most Cannabis Tax Revenue to Public Schools

Legal cannabis is a money-maker for states. But despite promises of revitalized infrastructure and reinvestment in schools, many states have their cannabis tax revenue tied up in the costs of regulating and overseeing the industry and training law enforcement. Sens. Leach and Street, however, say their bill prioritizes spending tax revenue on public education. The bill also lays out how individual districts could offset tax liabilities for home owners. Overall, the SB 350 projects that in the first year of operations, a retail cannabis industry could generate $600 million for the state.

Sen. Sharif Street also said that adult-use legalization could help with Pennsylvania’s ongoing opioid epidemic. Health officials in every place where cannabis is legal for adults have seen a reduction in opioid use. In New York, for example, a recent study of elderly medical cannabis patients recorded a 33 percent reduction in prescription opioid use among the study’s 200-plus participants. “In the midst of an opioid epidemic, we have to be able to take every step we can to mitigate against more people using opioids,” Street said.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has signaled that he supports a closer look at legalizing cannabis in Pennsylvania. But as might be expected, not everyone is on board with SB 350. In fact the Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman has already blasted legalization as “reckless and irresponsible.” Corman says legal weed sends the wrong message to young people, and he has vowed to do everything he can to stop it.

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