Lawmakers Discuss Possibility of Legalized Marijuana in Pennsylvania

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By Al Gnoza

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman spent several weeks going to different parts of Pennsylvania to gauge the support for legalizing marijuana. Fetterman is expected to issue a report on his findings at some point.

No matter what Fetterman may say, it sounds like many legislators have already made up their minds. And the ones in the majority are generally saying it’s not going to happen here.

Earlier this year I talked with Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Cumberland, York) and Rep. Chris Dush (R-Indiana, Jefferson). Both were decidedly against the idea of legalizing marijuana. In the past two weeks I talked with Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks, Lancaster) and Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin, Lebanon, York) and they see no change in the attitude and little chance of the issue even being discussed.

Many of these legislators who are saying ‘no’ to recreational marijuana, said ‘yes’ to medical marijuana.

“I supported medical marijuana as a means to give the people the care that they were otherwise unable to get,” Cox said. “It was a way to provide non-addictive pain relief in place of opiates and other things like that. To me it was a great option to look at and we have it structured in a way that it’s regulated.

But on the issue of recreational pot, Cox says where does it stop? Do we legalize everything that’s illegal just so we can regulate it and make a few bucks off of it?
“I don’t think that’s a road that we as a legislature want to go down in a policy direction,” Cox continued. “It’s dangerous. I, and most of my colleagues on the Republican side at least, are leaning in that direction. I can’t see legalization of marijuana being something on our priority list this fall or any time soon.”

Sen. Folmer was a huge champion for getting medical marijuana passed a few years ago. But he’s been a major bummer for the recreational pot aficionados.
“I have a lot of people mad at me about that,” Folmer said. “They call me a traitor.  But this wasn’t done about the high. This was about the medicine. This was about safe access for patients.”

Folmer pointed out the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t even have its medical program fully up and running. He says that in states that go from medical to recreational right away, the medical program goes by the wayside.

“What ends up happening, is that the cheapest pot possible is going to be grown,” Folmer says. “There’s going to be the mad rush to the bottom. The folks that say that say we will gain X-amount of money on the taxes from that and it will help with the underground market, stats don’t prove that to be true. The underground market is thriving in Colorado, in California, in Washington—in every state that there’s recreational, the underground market is there.”

Folmer says that we can be reasonably sure what’s in the medical marijuana. But there can be all kinds of contaminants in the un-regulated stuff.

He says we need to focus on the medicinal side.

“PA could become the leader of research on medicinal marijuana,” he suggested.

So does he think Pennsylvania will legalize recreational marijuana any time soon?

“I don’t think in the next two years.”

Al Gnoza is the Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.