By. Kyle Jaeger
Bipartisan Pennsylvania senators have officially introduced a new bill to legalize marijuana in the state. Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) filed the legislation on Thursday, about two months after first announcing their plans to team up on a reform push again after their joint cannabis efforts in prior sessions. “Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity,” Laughlin said in a press release. “With neighboring states New Jersey and New York implementing adult use, we have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult-use marijuana to avoid losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs,” he said. The two senators previously sponsored a legalization bill that was not ultimately enacted last session, but they say the newly filed proposal represents a significant improvement that they hope to advance.
“We have a unique and singular opportunity to correct decades of mass incarceration, disproportionate enforcement against marginalized communities, the criminalization of personal choice and the perpetuation of violence, which all materialized from the failed war on drugs,” Street said.
“Legalizing the adult use of cannabis will help us fully and equitably fund education, lower property taxes, and address a variety of community needs throughout Pennsylvania,” he added. Here’s what SB 846 would accomplish: Adults 21 and older could purchase, possess and gift up to 30 grams of cannabis. The legislation would allow medical cannabis patients to grow up to five plants for personal therapeutic use, but adult-use consumers would not have a homegrow option. Marijuana products would be subject to an eight percent sales tax, and retailers would additionally need to pay a five percent excise tax on cannabis that it sells. The tax revenue would go to a Cannabis Regulation Fund under the state treasury department. Tax dollars would cover administrative costs and then be distributed to municipalities that allow cannabis businesses to operate in their area and the state general fund to “provide economic relief to this Commonwealth.” Marketing that targets youth would be prohibited and there would be “workplace requirements regarding marijuana use for all those operating in good faith,” according to the sponsors’ press release. The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts would work with police to identify records for people with prior cannabis convictions and facilitate automatic expungements. People who’ve been disproportionately impacted under criminalization and meet income requirements would be eligible for social and economic equity business licenses. The measure would prioritize public safety, giving law enforcement the ability to “adjudicate” impaired driving and empower them to “eradicate” the illicit market. While federal law prohibits people who use marijuana from buying or owning firearms, the bill would provide state-level protections against losing gun rights over cannabis. Possession or use of marijuana by parents or guardians could not be used as the sole basis for adverse child custody actions. In a co-sponsorship memo seeking support for the legislation from colleagues, the senators emphasized that polling shows adult-use legalization “is supported by two-thirds of Pennsylvanians and has majority support in rural, suburban, and urban legislative districts.” They also pointed out that legalization is estimated to bring in $400 million to $1 billion in tax revenue to the state. Meanwhile, in May, Pennsylvania House lawmakers filed separate bills to legalize marijuana sales through state-run stores and to provide permits for farmers and small agriculture businesses to cultivate cannabis once adult-use sales are allowed. Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) supports enacting cannabis reform and proposed to legalize and tax adult-use marijuana as part of his 2023-2024 budget request in March. The prospects of enacting legalization increased in the Keystone State after Democrats took control of the House following last year’s election. Republicans have maintained control of the Senate, however, but there are certain GOP members like Laughlin and Sen. Mike Regan (R) who’ve backed reform. In February, Laughlin also sent a letter to state law enforcement, urging officials to take steps to protect gun rights for cannabis consumers, particularly medical marijuana patients, in light of a federal court’s recent ruling on the issue. Street, who is sponsoring the newly filed legalization bill, took some advocates by surprise recently by joining other senators in urging a federal court not to authorize an overdose prevention site site in Philadelphia, while supporting a proposal to ban the harm reduction centers statewide.