When I started talking about legalizing adult marijuana use, I got the expected question from ingredients, friends, and colleagues: How can I, as a former US legislator, support marijuana legalization?
I came to this position after careful consideration over the past several years, beginning with Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 when I was a leader on the issue in the House of Representatives.
What medical marijuana has shown us is that there is a safe and regulated place for marijuana, and that it has benefits for its users.
Unfortunately, the longstanding marijuana ban has been the norm as many of us were raised to “just say no.” This makes changing opinions and politics difficult. However, my 23 years in law enforcement did not train me to escape from difficult situations but towards them. It is in my nature to investigate, to find the truth, and to protect my fellow citizens.
This is what I have been doing and continue to do regarding the legalization of adult use of marijuana.
One result that has been clear for many years now is that the ban and its enforcement have failed. Instead, there seems to be a general consensus to accept the status quo, which is unfathomable. Communities across the Commonwealth have taken it upon themselves to decriminalize marijuana, which only continues to fuel the illegal market and put Pennsylvanians in harm’s way when buying and using marijuana. Furthermore, an estimated $325 million per month flows from Pennsylvania into the illicit market and funds the violent cartels, which are destroying our communities.
Do we as a Commonwealth agree with the status quo? Will we willingly continue to allow criminals to make $4 billion a year from our family and friends for a product that is sold to anyone regardless of age, has not been tested for safety, is not taxed, and lacks oversight?
Or will we as a Commonwealth realize that it is time to stop funding violence and start looking at marijuana for what it could be — and not for what is in the harmful form being sold on the streets?
We have the opportunity to build an existing medical marijuana program that has demonstrated that marijuana can be responsibly grown and sold in Pennsylvania and provide the over two million Pennsylvanians who currently use marijuana with a safe product that does not contain dangerous drugs such as fentanyl or PCP.
In the simplest terms, our choices are between safe or unsafe; tested or untested; age-controlled or accessible to all; and tax proceeds or criminal gain.
And that’s why I’ve come to my current belief that we must legalize adult use of marijuana, also known as cannabis — to protect our communities. The choice between the status quo and a regulated market is so obvious that it is hard to imagine who would differ.
As it turns out, very few do.
A recent survey of 1,500 Pennsylvanians from every corner of the Commonwealth asked a very simple question: With what you now know about the current illegal cannabis in Pennsylvania, do you think it is best to maintain the illegal market status quo or legalize, regulate, and tax illegals. The medical use of cannabis by adults?
More than 90% agreed that when presented with the two real options available to us, the logical course was to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis use for adults.
Ninety percent. In this day and age, this is as close to consensus as we come.
That same survey showed rapidly changing opinions about cannabis – it is now a widely accepted medical treatment in 45 states. It showed the expected generation shift, but also the changing understanding of cannabis, with the majority of respondents seeing prescription drugs and alcohol as more dangerous than cannabis by a wide margin.
These findings speak volumes, and it is clear that it is time to say goodbye to ban and status quo and, instead, establish a policy of adult use of marijuana that takes control of violent criminals and protects Pennsylvania from a tainted product while funding important initiatives to protect the health and safety of our communities.
State Senator Mike Reagan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senate District that covers parts of Cumberland and York counties.