Will bipartisan talks in Harrisburg finally lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana, or is the latest attempt at switching to the environment going smokeless?
With neighboring states including Maryland, New York and New Jersey creating their own markets for adult cannabis use, Pennsylvania may feel peer pressure to act. The General Assembly took steps this year to learn more about recreational cannabis legalization through a series of public hearings in Senate committees, and a pair of bipartisan proposals suggest the Commonwealth may be closer to legalization than ever.
“I think there’s a growing feeling in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that it’s not about whether we legalize cannabis, but when,” Senator Sheriff Street, a Philadelphia Democrat, told City and State Magazine. Street, along with state Senator Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie County, introduced Senate Bill 473, a marijuana legalization proposal for adults, last year.
The proposed legislation calls for a “rational framework” for legislation. It will allow adults age 21 and older to buy and own up to 30 grams of cannabis, allow patients to grow up to five plants in the house for personal use, ban marketing towards children, provide workplace rules and poisoning and emphasize social justice by creating equal licenses And expunge the criminal records of anyone with a nonviolent cannabis conviction.
However, Street and Laughlin aren’t the only ones with a suggestion. Senator Mike Reagan, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, has been leading the hearing process as he prepares to introduce his bipartisan legalization bill. Reagan said his interest in the legislation stems from his experience as an American soldier, in which he said he witnessed organized crime and drug gangs profiting from the illicit market.
Legalization has been a hot topic in the Commonwealth for the past few years, with Governor Tom Wolfe and Lieutenant John Fetterman joining calls from Democratic lawmakers for the Republican-controlled General Assembly to consider proposals for adult marijuana use. It’s different this time, experts say, with Republican lawmakers holding serious talks while neighboring states reap the tax benefits of a structured market.
“I think there is a growing awareness across the country about the need for reform in this area,” said Jeremiah Mostler, senior policy analyst for criminal justice reform at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative liberal political group that has expressed support for legalization, the city and state.
Mosteler said AFP had begun to get involved in the issue as public support for the legislation grew and evidence revealed that the ban had not worked.
“We are actually seeing adult use continue to rise. The black market continues to thrive no matter what we do, and that brings with it a lot of other violent and non-violent crime that already has victims,” he said, adding that law enforcement “only solves about 42% of Violent crimes and 15% of property crimes. We think this leaves a lot of victims without justice and puts public safety at risk because we invest a lot of resources in banning cannabis and we’re not actually having a positive outcome.”
Starting the conversation is just one step away. From there, lawmakers must consider not only the complex issues of developing a new regulatory framework, but also the best policy choices that take public health, safety and equity into account.
Bo Kilmer is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and director of the Center for Drug Policy Research at the RAND Corporation. While working with states and researching rationing policies across the country, Kilmer said he’s found that pricing plays an important role in developing a competitive market.
“If you look at a lot of the outcomes that you discuss in discussions of rationing, whether it’s about what happens to consumption, what happens to tax revenue, what happens to illegal market size, what happens to corporate profitability — which is important to some social justice conversations — a lot of that It is shaped by price,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer said there is no “best way” to tax cannabis, but there is a growing consensus that taxing it as a function of price may not be the case. He mentioned one proposal, which is being considered in New Hampshire, to have the state create a market for cannabis, similar to the way Pennsylvania handles liquor distribution.
We’ve already seen prices drop somewhat. It has become difficult, in many places, for your micro-entrepreneurs to compete.” “One advantage of the state store model is that it allows the state not only to control the products in the market but also some sort of price control, rather than waiting for the competition to push things around. Down.”
Pricing is also crucial to forcing the illicit market out – something that people on both sides of the rationing argument have expressed concern about.
State Senator Judy Ward, chair of the Senate Committee on Senate and Aging, who has been an outspoken opponent of legalization, held her own hearing on adult marijuana use after she said Senate Law and Justice Committee hearings failed to hear from both sides.
“The black market will always be there,” Ward, a Republican from Cumberland County, told City & State. “Don’t think for a moment that young people are not going to get their hands on recreational marijuana, because we see what’s going on with alcohol…(marijuana) just presents a whole host of problems that we haven’t been able to solve yet.”
On the other side of the argument, Mosteler said, concerns about the illicit market could be where smart pricing comes into play.
“The number one thing that Pennsylvania can do to make sure that it undermines the illicit market that currently exists is to be intentional about its tax and regulatory structure, and just make sure that law firms are able to compete effectively on a price point,” he said. “The reality is that if products on the black or gray market are still cheaper than products on the legal market, consumers will continue to go to their existing provider or find a black or gray market provider to buy goods from.”
The Commonwealth has the advantage of seeing the growing pains of other nations as they develop their own cannabis markets. States like Colorado, which began legal sales in 2014, can provide an example of what not to do.
Trent Wolovik, Chief Commercial Officer, Jushi Inc. , testifying at a Senate Law and Justice hearing on February 25, that Colorado initially contended with long lines and high prices, which led to consumers clinging to the cheaper illegal market. He noted that an ounce of legal cannabis was priced at $64.90, while people could get it on the street for half that price. Estimates showed that after Colorado’s initial launch eight years ago, the illicit market still made up about 70% of cannabis sales in the state.
“We are now closer to 80-20%, possibly 85-15% (legal sales market share),” Wolovik told the hearing. “I would point out that the tax structure and supply are really the main drivers.”
Besides pricing, presentation is another big part of the equation. Speaking with both legislators and advocates, it is clear that supply and competition will also play a pivotal role in creating a quality market.
Mosteller said that in addition to having a transparent and accountable regulatory system, any rationing policy must prioritize creating a fair and competitive market for large and small farmers alike.
“If a country is to choose to go ahead here, it needs to prevent its market from being an oligopoly controlled by only a few large companies and out-of-state operators,” Mosteller said. He noted that the medical marijuana market in Pennsylvania has become a problem, as local growers and local businesses have not been able to compete, and that the state cannot allow these problems to operate in a potential recreational market.
Current legalization proposals have considerations for social justice licensees to benefit communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis convictions. Mosteller said these proposals could go one step further.
Mosteller put in place four policies that can help the state avoid the mistakes of others who stumble when launching cannabis markets. These policy options include avoiding arbitrary restrictions on the number of firms that can operate in the market; Allowing the number of licensed firms to grow as market demand increases; Having a level playing field for all applicants regardless of their involvement in the medical marijuana industry; By the same token, he banned suppliers in the medical marijuana market to get a head start on securing a significant portion of the market share before other competitors had a chance to join in.
Kilmer added that there are a variety of ways countries can advance social justice. It just depends on what lawmakers value the most.
“In particular, for a state like Pennsylvania, it would be worth doing the analysis and being very specific about it,” Kilmer said. “What are the goals of my social justice program? Is it building wealth in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the cannabis ban? You can be very specific about the goal, look at all your policy tools, and then start doing some cost-benefit analysis.”
Unfortunately for legalization advocates and advocates, pricing and supply are just the tip of the iceberg with cannabis legalization.
On top of the regulatory questions, there are a myriad of public safety and enforcement issues that have yet to be addressed. Among them are concerns about driving under the influence of marijuana and the ability to test if someone is drunk, Second Amendment rights for individuals related to federal controlled substance laws, and where potential revenue should be allocated.
The willingness of the General Assembly to discuss issues related to the legalization of cannabis is a promising sign for supporters, but this does not mean that any proposals will see a vote during this legislative session.
While Street believes the time for legalization is coming, Ward said she doesn’t see the Republican-led legislature prioritizing the issue during this legislative session. “I think there might be people who would vote for decriminalization,” Ward said. “I don’t see anywhere in the near future that we will vote for[full legalization].”
As the General Assembly continues to learn about the subject and weigh its regulatory options, Street hopes his and Laughlin’s proposal will be the starting point for discussion.
“I think what is happening is that there is now a level of education about cannabis[that]makes people understand what a rational bill looks like,” Street said. “I think our legislation does not represent a middle ground.”