pennsylvania marijuana legalization bill

A new adult-use marijuana legalization bill has been introduced by Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) to the Pennsylvania state legislature.

House Bill 2050 would permit possession, cultivation and consumption of marijuana for adults 21 and older, would establish a taxed and regulated recreational cannabis industry, and contains various provisions aimed at promoting social equity and restorative justice.

“With one bill, we can accomplish a great deal here in Pennsylvania,” Wheatley said in a statement. “Undo the damage that’s been caused for over 40 years by an overzealous criminal justice system intent on criminalizing people for minor drug offenses, and create a comprehensive marketplace to legally sell cannabis to adults.”

Wheatley’s bill would establish the Cannabis Clean Slate program which would be responsible for overseeing the expungement of low-level cannabis offenses from the records of individuals convicted of non-violent drug crimes. This would build on the expedited pardon process for marijuana-related criminal records recently introduced in Pennsylvania. The bill also sets a timeframe of 60 days for those charged with low-level marijuana offenses to be released from jail following its passage into law.

Rep. Wheatley submitted a similar bill last year, but it didn’t make it past the Senate. This year’s revised effort is the result of input and recommendations from stakeholders, in part garnered from the lieutenant governor’s statewide cannabis listening tour. A recent poll carried out by Franklin and Marshall supports Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s claim following his tour that marijuana legalization enjoys majority support. The state poll found that 59 percent of Pennsylvanians support adult-use marijuana legalization.

One of the revisions Wheatley made to last year’s bill is to drop application and permit fees for prospective cannabis businesses seeking licenses to operate. This is to encourage small businesses to participate in the cannabis industry. Corporation taxes would start at 10 percent, although growers and processors working with an existing Pennsylvania farm would be exempt from paying tax. Consumers would initially pay 6 percent but this would increase to 19 percent within four years. State tax revenues would be allocated towards public services such as after-school programs, grants for minority-owned businesses, affordable housing and student debt forgiveness among others.

“We open up the opportunity for smaller entrepreneurs to get into that market,” Wheatley said in a press release. “We believe the full answer is to have a regulated legal market for adult use and we believe the time has certainly come, and passed, really, for us to engage in a conversation here in the Capitol for this critical topic.”

It remains unclear if Wheatley’s new bill stands a better chance of passing the Republican-controlled House than his effort last year. There is currently another piece of marijuana legalization legislation, hailed as one of the most progressive cannabis bills in play across US politics, that has been languishing in the Senate’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee since October, 2019.

House Bill 2050 would first have to make it through the House Health Committee whose chairperson Rep. Kathy Rapp (R) made clear she will not pass any cannabis legalization bills. She was also opposed to medical cannabis legalization, which ultimately went ahead with sales starting in early 2018. While Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has been lauded, Wheatley cites data reported by Pittsburgh City Paper which shows that minorities and those on lower incomes are being left out of the industry. Wheatley argues that allowing individuals to grow their own marijuana is the solution to this.

Rep. Wheatley said lawmakers who continue to refuse to acknowledge the views of Pennsylvanians on marijuana legalization are not doing their jobs properly.

“The citizens of the commonwealth have said they’re ready for us to engage in this, so anyone in this Capitol dome that’s refusing to listen to the citizens of this commonwealth, primarily based on their own view of the world, I think is doing a disservice to themselves and to the office,” Wheatley said.

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