Pennsylvania marijuana legalization listening tour

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced last week that his Lt. Governor, John Fetterman, will embark on a tour of the state’s 67 counties to hold listening sessions with the public on the issue of marijuana legalization.

Fetterman is a vocal proponent of cannabis reform whose candidacy for Lt. Governor was endorsed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). In a statement last year, NORML called him “an unrelenting champion for reversing Pennsylvania’s failed and draconic policies when it comes to marijuana.”

“I’m here today to support Lt. Governor John Fetterman in his effort to hear directly from the people of Pennsylvania on this issue,” Gov. Wolf said in a press release from the governor’s office.

Wolf had previously said that the state was not ready to legalize, but with neighboring states like New York and New Jersey taking steps towards ending cannabis prohibition, he now believes “it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.”

“More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, especially those surrounding Pennsylvania, and we should learn from their efforts, and better understand the potential fiscal impacts of this reality before taking any collective action.”

“We could choose to ignore what’s going on in the world and just pretend that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, or we can actually open our eyes and ears and say, ‘let’s go out and ask—let’s find out,” Wolf said at the press conference announcing the listening tour.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2016 and Gov. Wolf stressed that any changes to the status of recreational marijuana would happen after the medical marijuana program has been fully implemented.

Legalization bills are in the pipelines

Members of the House and Senate have been busy in the past few weeks drafting adult-use marijuana legalization bills that they hope will reach the governor’s desk this year. Whether such bills can pass through the Republican-controlled chambers remains to be seen.

Wolf declined to say whether he’d had recent conversations with Republicans in the legislature about the issue but emphasised that these listening sessions were an opportunity for people’s deeply-held views to be discussed and debated.

“This is a democracy,” Wolf said. “People are encouraged to have different ideas on what we ought to do, and I think that’s great.”

The approach is similar to that taken under the leadership of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last year, whose administration held town hall-style meetings on cannabis legalization across the state. Cuomo subsequently endorsed marijuana legalization and included proposals to do so in his budget proposal that lawmakers are now considering.

Wolf’s changed stance on the issue has also prompted a Philadelphia city council member to introduce a proposal that would put the question of marijuana legalization to the city’s voters, saying that it is an “appropriate time” to consider such legislation.

The listening tour will start in mid-February and dates will be released in the coming days. For those who may not be able to attend a listening session or are simply interested in providing feedback, the lieutenant governor’s office will be establishing a webpage form.

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