I wasn’t kidding when I said Pennsylvania is ready for legalization back on 4/20. On Election Day, Philadelphians flexed their collective voting muscles and told Harrisburg that legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis should be a priority now. Once the votes were tallied, nearly three-quarters of Philadelphia voters supported Ballot Question 1, which urges state lawmakers to approve the adult use of marijuana.
If lawmakers in Harrisburg are on the fence and need any direction, maybe a signal from the Keystone State’s biggest city should move them over to the “legalize” side.
Pennsylvania legislators should have realized long before now that legalization is the right thing to do — after all, the latest poll published by Muhlenberg’s College shows 6 out of 10 adult residents support the “complete legalization” of cannabis in the state. And, however slowly, some lawmakers, it seems, are starting to pay attention.
Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia) and Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) have worked together across the aisle to file their version of a legalization bill. Reps. Jake Wheatley (D., Pittsburgh) and Dan Frankel (D., Pittsburgh) announced earlier this year that they were collaborating on a proposal. And Sen. Mike Regan (R., Cumberland/York) published an op-ed detailing what his cannabis legalization bill would look like.
The faster Pennsylvania moves toward legalization, the sooner it will be able to seize on the economic opportunity that the cannabis industry could mean for the state. This year, Leafly, one of the most reputable cannabis news outlets in the country, said that a fully legal Pennsylvania market could see as much as $3 billion in revenue within five years, which translates into roughly $500 million in annual tax revenue, and about 40,000 legal cannabis jobs. If the industry were legal in the state today, Pennsylvania would be America’s third largest cannabis market, behind only California and Colorado.
Philly voters have made clear that they see the potential of legalization, now what will City Council do?
Will our elected officials be weighed down by misinformation and the false connection between marijuana and gun violence? Or will they work together to ensure that those most harmed by draconic and racist drug laws will benefit the most from cannabis legalization when it happens here in Pennsylvania?
If any councilmembers are worried or uncertain about the “dangers” of cannabis, let us — elected officials and legalization supporters — work together to answer any questions. Let’s dedicate money and resources to craft a comprehensive research study that thoroughly addresses the “reefer madness” claims that some people shout from the rooftops.
Let’s publish a study together, that shows how legal marijuana can benefit public health, rectify systemic harms to people of color, and methodically integrate illicit sellers into a legal, and restorative, market.
Let’s center our examination on questions of social equity, reparations, reconciliation, and redress for the failed tough-on-crime laws that have only exacerbated the ills of Black and brown communities and those in poverty. Might I even recommend that Philly’s first cannabis business association partner and lead in this effort.
As I said on 4/20: Adult-use legalization can address several issues that unite lawmakers across the aisle, because it generates potential tax revenue to tackle poverty, job development, and criminal legal reform. Drafting policies around those concerns can lead to a myriad of reconciliation and repair measures for the communities that have been most impacted by marijuana’s criminalization.
If Pennsylvanians truly want to celebrate their next 4/20 freely, legalizing adult-use cannabis, liberating people harmed by the war on drugs, and supporting those impacted by drug prohibition must happen now.
Philadelphia has spoken.
Tauhid Chappell is a cannabis patient, parliamentarian, and journalist based in the Philadelphia area. He’s also the founder and organizer of the Color of Cannabis and CannAtlantic Conferences and is building the Philadelphia CannaBusiness Association with more than a dozen cannabis community stakeholders in the city. Get involved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org