On Wednesday afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that he is now in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. This was an unsurprising turn given that in late 2018, Wolf tweeted that is was time for Pennsylvania “to take a serious and honest look” at recreational legalization and that Lt. Governor John Fetterman has spent months on a statewide recreational marijuana listening tour, talking to Pennsylvanians in all 67 counties.
"I think it's time for the General Assembly to sit down and craft a bill that actually recognizes that Pennsylvania is ready for this, and also takes advantage of what we've learned from other states in terms of what to do and what not to do," Wolf told a news conference in his Capitol offices.
Legalization won’t be simple, though, as the Legislature's top Republicans do not support the measure. "Our caucus has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana," the House's Republican leadership said in a joint statement.
As Pennsylvania lawmakers continue to debate the issue, The Inquirer Opinion department wants to help you make up your mind about legalizing recreational marijuana. Read perspectives from people with knowledge of the issue and weigh in our poll.
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, explains that while addressing overdose requires a multipronged strategy, recent studies indicate that states providing genuine access to legal marijuana have lower rates of opioid prescribing for chronic pain in communities that are at high risk of opioid use disorder and overdose deaths. As a result, we may see decreased rates of opioid overdose with legalized marijuana.
In January 2019, the Inquirer Opinion department asked our readers and listeners of Praise 107.9′s Your Voice with Solomon Jones to share their thoughts on legalizing recreational marijuana. Responses ranged from one reader who said that “legalizing now shows hypocrisy” to another who urged Pennsylvania to learn from states who have already gone down this path.
WURD radio host and Inquirer columnist Solomon Jones writes that legalizing marijuana is the same kind of economic bait and switch that America has always pulled on people of color. Black folks create an industry that has value — whether through legal or illegal means — and white folks change the rules, change the language, and change the perception in order to bring about a change in ownership, Jones writes.
While many people support legalization as a racial and criminal justice issue, Inquirer writer Abraham Gutman urges lawmakers to make sure marijuana is taxed correctly. What makes marijuana cost more than cilantro is prohibition, he writes. Products in illegal markets are more expensive for three reasons: Every person in a supply chain takes risk that they want to be compensated for; the inputs of production — such marijuana seeds — are often also illegal, making them more expensive; and discrete production is often inefficient. After legalization, all those costs disappear. It’s important for lawmakers to consider these details as well as public opinion.
According to Alex Berenson, author of “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence," over the last 30 years, researchers have proven marijuana is linked to psychosis – the medical term for a break from reality, such as hearing voices or having paranoia and delusions. He urges lawmakers use caution as they hear advocates promising that legalization will do no harm.