Two Pennsylvania state senators introduced Senate Bill 350 in Harrisburg on Tuesday and it contains just about everything a cannabis advocate would love. There are provisions for growing cannabis at home, expungement of all cannabis criminal records, pizza-like delivery of marijuana to your door, and a bar-to-entry set so low that just about any Pennsylvanian could enter the trade as a grower or a retailer.
“This bill is fantastic,” said Les Stark, director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization with a statewide membership base. “It prioritizes the cannabis consumer and corrects some serious social justice problems. If it passes, it could become the gold standard legalization bill for the free world.”
Still, the bill faces an uphill battle, The bill has yet to gain any Republican sponsors. And a few weeks ago, when Gov. Tom Wolf called for legalizing recreational use, Republican lawmakers in the state House of Representatives said that they have “no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana.”
The bill was lauded by cannabis regulators in other states.
“Wow, this is impressive,” said Shaleen Title, of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. “It’s largely in line with the trend that each state’s legalization law improves upon the states before it.”
Despite the lack of a Republican co-sponsor, State Sens. Sharif Street (D., Phila.) and Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) have high hopes for the legislation.
“I think the bill will ultimately be enacted and get wide Republican support,” said Street. “Many of my Republican colleagues tell me that they support the concept and believe it eventually will be adopted.”
There is plenty in it for the GOP to love, said Leach, who shepherded the Keystone State’s medical marijuana bill into law. Initially, the medical bill also lacked a Republican co-sponsor.
“It’s an economic, political, and moral win for both sides,” Leach said. “It keeps the black market tamped down, the $500 million generated in cannabis fees would be directed to the schools, it decreases regulation by eliminating the seed-to-sale tracking.”
Control of the Keystone State’s recreational marijuana industry would be placed squarely in the hands of Pennsylvanians. That appeals to self-styled “localist” and serial entrepreneur Judy Wicks.
“I’m really happy that it makes it easy for people without a lot of money to get into the business,” Wicks said. “It’s very decentralized. There’d be a lot of small local growers and sellers. My big fear was that large out-of-state corporations would come in and dominate the market. This bill takes steps to keep that from happening.”
Patrick Nightingale, a Pittsburgh lawyer who champions many cannabis causes, called it “a dream bill,” but said it might run into opposition by socially conservative GOP legislators who maintain — without any scientific evidence — that marijuana is a gateway drug.
“Some of them are claiming legalized marijuana causes an increase in homicides and violent crimes, and that it fuels the opioid crisis,” Nightingale said. “If this is going to get passed, we’ll need to have an honest discussion and not mix it in with sky-is-falling and reefer madness rhetoric.”
Taxes on recreational marijuana products would be capped at 17.5%.
SB350 joins several other cannabis legalization bills being considered by the state legislature. Most recently, State Rep. David Delloso (D., Delaware) introduced House Bill 1899, which would provide for legal recreational marijuana sales in Pennsylvania state liquor stores.
Jason Mitchell, cofounder of an advocacy and industry watchdog group based in Media called Soulful Cannabis, said he was very excited for how the bill makes it easy for local entrepreneurs to enter the weed industry.
“It will allow us to get ownership of businesses in disenfranchised communities, communities that were the most severely impacted by the War on Drugs,” Mitchell said. He only has one regret.
“I have an issue with charging $50 for a permit to grow 10 plants at home,” Mitchell said. “It’s a step towards normalization, but it’s still a bit Big Brother. I don’t have to get a permit to grow tomatoes in my backyard.”
If adopted as is, the recreational marijuana program proposed by Street and Leach would be overseen by the Department of Agriculture and allow for the following:
Homegrow: Individuals would be allowed to cultivate 10 plants. That’s more than any other legal state. Homegrowers keep it for personal use or give it away but would be prohibited from selling it. Annual permit: $50.
Microgrowers: Small businesses would be allowed to grow up to 150 cannabis plants to sell to processors and dispensaries. Microgrowers wouldn’t be able to use the product themselves or sell directly to consumers. Annual permit: $250.
Dispensaries: Current medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to sell recreational weed as long as they kept their inventory and supply chains separate. There would be no cap on the number of potential retailers but ownership would be limited to three storefronts. Dispensaries would be allowed to hold permits to deliver cannabis and open a lounge where people could consume marijuana. To ensure safety of the products, dispensaries would be held liable “for civil treble damages” for harm caused by inaccurate labeling of sold cannabis. Permit: $5,000.
Bigger growers: So-called Big Marijuana would be kept in check. Permits would allow for no more than 150,000 square feet of outdoor weed farming or 60,000 square feet under indoor lights. There would be no limit on total number of growers, but each grower would be limited to an ownership stake in only one grow facility. Application would cost $100,000, annual renewal would cost $10,000.
Processors: Could purchase weed from big growers and microgrowers to render into pills, tinctures, vape cartridges, and concentrates. Permit: $1,000.
Delivery service: To get cannabis from dispensaries to consumers, individuals would be able to deliver by foot, unicycle, bike, automobile, bus, train, or armored car. Dispensary employees or independent contractors could serve as deliverers. Permits: $50.
BYOW lounges: Much like a bar is for alcohol, a public lounge would serve cannabis users and could be owned or attached to dispensaries. Lounge owners could sell admission but not sell product within the lounge premises. Customers required to bring (their) own weed. Most legal states do not offer lounges. Permit: $1,000.
Taxes: Set at 17.5%
Research: Colleges and universities could grow and process cannabis in conjunction with any classes they offer related to the weed industry. All product, however, must be destroyed and not used by any individual. Though the offer is attractive, most schools would be unlikely to participate for fear of being stripped of federal grants.
Social justice, expungement: All criminal convictions for cannabis-related offenses would be removed from a person’s record. Anyone incarcerated on a marijuana-related crime would receive a commutation. All supervision would cease. Pending criminal charges for cannabis would be dismissed.
Social justice, education: The Department of Agriculture would create a network of schools to offer classes for prospective cannabis entrepreneurs.
Social justice, grant program, and loans: Up to $2 million would be available as interest-free loans for low-income people who want to participate in the recreational marijuana industry who have prior cannabis-related criminal convictions.
An updated version of this story that corrected an error was published at 11 p.m. on October 15, 2019.