This week, Pennsylvania broke its single-day record for new COVID-19 cases, not once, but three times. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the state reported nearly 13,000 new confirmed cases. And this surge could lead to patients overwhelming staff at Pennsylvania hospitals.

And today, I chatted with reporter Sam Wood, who covers drugs, including marijuana, about his work and what New Jersey can expect after recreational weed was legalized there in November by an overwhelming vote.

— Lauren Aguirre (@laurencaguirre, morningnewsletter@inquirer.com)

The week ahead

This week’s most popular stories

Behind the story with Sam Wood

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Sam Wood, who covers drugs, including cannabis and its industry.

New Jersey voted to legalize marijuana. What’s next?

The horse trading begins. The laws and regulations governing the New Jersey program are being hashed out in Trenton. The lawmakers will determine who gets to grow it, who gets to sell it, and who gets to profit from legal weed. How will social and racial justice be addressed? Will mom and pops get a piece of the action? Will New Jersey’s industry remain in the hands of a very few, or will it become as accessible to entrepreneurs as a dry cleaners, liquor store, or pizzeria? There’s a long road to go.

Does the vote result in New Jersey mean anything for legal weed in Pennsylvania?

Yes and no. Republicans control both the House and Senate in Pennsylvania. At present, the GOP leadership is adamantly opposed to recreational marijuana. Pro-cannabis Democrats say legalization could generate millions in tax revenues for the state and are concerned about Pennsylvanians crossing the bridges and spending their money in New Jersey. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is fond of saying that 40% of Pennsylvanians live within 30 minutes of New Jersey. The GOP leadership says if the Dems are really concerned about ”border bleed” they would privatize liquor sales and get rid of the Fine Wine and Spirits Shops. I suspect if the Dems agreed to blow up the PLCB, we might see Republicans back a deal for adult recreational cannabis sales.

What would you say is a common misconception about marijuana (or the industry) that most people tend to have?

It’s not about stoners. The laws exclude the “traditional market” i.e. the black market dealers. The folks who top the successful companies are former bankers, politicians, hedge fund managers, and executives from the “consumer packaged goods” industries. Think Goldman Sachs, U.S. Congress, Privateer Holdings, Proctor & Gamble, Victoria’s Secret, and Pepsi. The biggest dealers aren’t people like NJWeedman, they’re politically-connected kazillonaires who winter in Palm Beach.

What drew you to your beat?

It’s about the intersection of money, power, science and pleasure — what one writer calls “limbic capitalism” It’s also, to some degree, about gardening and justice. What other beat mixes it all up like that? When Gov. Wolf signed the law making medical marijuana legal in Pennsylvania, I suspected cannabis would join cable and casinos as a heavily-regulated cash generator. That’s been borne out. So far, it’s also thrown off a good deal of drama. In every segment of WeedWorld there are fabulous characters at work.

What is one thing you wish more people better understood about your job?

Weed is just one of the topics I cover. I am not an advocate. I don’t inhale. I enjoy the people I write about, but I am not one of them.

Email Sam Wood at swood@inquirer.com and follow him on Twitter at @samwoodiii.

Through Your Eyes | #OurPhilly

I love this beautiful time lapse shot. Thanks for sharing, @strangerphilly.

Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout-out!

How to get a Christmas tree in the Philly area

If you’d like a real tree this year, you can still get one. Like every other year, you can head to a tree farm near Philly, in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and pick one up. You may have to cut it down yourself though. But if you’re concerned about being exposed to the virus, or that just sounds like too much work, tree delivery is a thing now. Here’s how to get a real tree delivered this year. And if you’re considering an artificial tree instead, here’s how each type affect allergies and the environment.

What we’re…

  • Eating: at “ghost kitchens.” A new phenomenon with the pandemic, these restaurants have only the kitchen space to prepare food, which is then delivered or offered for pick-up.

  • Exploring: Indie bookstores. We’ve rounded up more than a dozen Philadelphia-area indie bookshops that can still help you get your reading fix.

  • Checking out: gift ideas for music lovers. Our music critic Dan DeLuca has all the ideas you need for the music fan in your life — or for yourself.

Comment of the week

“Kudos to this Family for spreading cheer in these down times. Hope you all have a Safe and Merry Christmas!!” — phloridamac, on Drop a letter in ‘Santa’s mailbox’ by Dec. 19 and this Northeast Philly family will make sure he writes back.

Your Daily Dose of | Gingerbread Rowhouses

If you wanted your gingerbread house to feel a little more Philly, you can do that this year. Chris DiPiazza of Mighty Bread Co. has created gingerbread rowhouse kits to bring in the holiday season with a little Philly flair.