Implementing Recreational Marijuana in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Cannabis Implementation Should Follow Other States’ Lead
This past year brought major cannabis milestones both home and abroad, as various states and even countries made up ground in the fight against prohibition.
Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis for adult use outright, and the first in North America. Once found only on America’s west coast, Massachusetts marijuana dispensaries began adult-use recreational sales of cannabis in November of 2018. In the Midwest, Michigan legalized adult-use sales during their midterm elections.
This past year, Pennsylvania entered the 21st century of marijuana laws when it joined a majority of 33 states that offer medical cannabis to those with a doctor’s prescription. PA patients made their first purchases in the keystone state almost a year ago, on February 15th, 2018.
Moreover, many pro-cannabis governors across the country enjoyed victories during the midterms, which means more cannabis reform legislation is on the way in 2019.
Forbes pinned Illinois, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont as the next likely recreational states in 2019. Pennsylvania found itself amongst Forbes’ honorable mentions of states to watch out for, as PA Governor Tom Wolf (D) now says he will take a serious look at recreational cannabis for adult use.
As legal cannabis’ popularity spreads, so too does its influence.
In an email interview with Forbes, Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, described that, “A growing number of state lawmakers and governors are either getting behind [cannabis legalization] efforts or coming to the realization that they cannot hold them up much longer.”
For example, with Massachusetts now the east coast’s hub for recreational cannabis, many other states in New England have begun to consider following suit lest they miss out on internal revenue as citizens visit bordering states for legal cannabis.
In an interview with Providence journal, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimonda (D) described how states that border legal marijuana states, “spend a lot of money on externalities,” referencing those surrounding Colorado.
“Connecticut is going to do it, the new governor-elect has been crystal clear,” she said, referring to her own constituents, “If we think that there is not going to be Rhode Islanders crossing the border into Seekonk or, you know, Putnam, Connecticut, we are crazy.”
This appeal and desire for legal cannabis is forcing the hands of states like Rhode Island, and we are seeing similar effects in PA. As neighboring New Jersey pushes toward recreational legislature, the potential losses in cannabis externalities have pressured governor Wolf to look more deeply at recreational cannabis.
With PA set to consider recreational, and Lt. Gov John Fetterman (D) traveling to each county to gauge support, PA should follow the lead of states like Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey when it comes to how we implement legal cannabis.
As Pennsylvania legislators work to implement recreational cannabis, they should observe and understand what didn’t work during medical marijuana implementation, so they can learn from the mistakes and hurdles PA’s medical marijuana program encountered during its first year of implementation.
One of the biggest concerns for PA’s medical marijuana patients early on was accessibility. Only 4 dispensaries were open the day of implementation, across the 44,000 or square miles that make up the state.
Due to the conservative nature of the bill’s original wording, whole-leaf marijuana flower wasn’t available as a form for patients initially. This severely limited product availability overall, as the extraction process for oil and pill forms is lengthy, leading to less available product on the first day of sales than expected, and higher prices.
PA’s medical marijuana board approved whole flower in April of 2018, but the price of medical cannabis remains high enough that patients can’t afford it. Many cannot afford the $250 cost to enroll, let alone the product itself.
Pennsylvania medical marijuana cannot compete with black market cannabis in terms of price and quantity of available medicine. The largest amount of flower one can purchase in quantity is an 8th, or 3.5 grams, which can run up to $65 in PA dispensaries, nearly 2.5 times the per gram rate one can find on the black market, around $8-10 a gram.
All this amounts to less cannabis getting into the hands of people it may help. Luckily, when Pennsylvania legalizes cannabis for recreation, we can right this wrong.
Massachusetts new recreational cannabis laws may allow adult citizens to purchase cannabis, but they also allow citizens to cultivate up to 6 cannabis plants in their home, 12 if shared by two people. These simple, common-sense provisions finally give adult Americans back the responsibility to grow a plant in their own home, as long as they are not visible to the public.
Recreational cannabis for adult use means just that, adult use.
Pennsylvanian adults are ready to take on the mantle of responsibility that legal cannabis details, and any bill that doesn’t offer home grow possibilities does not fully empower adults to take on that responsibility. When writing this legislation, lawmakers must not set the state up for failure, which is why adult Pennsylvanians shouldn’t just be allowed to purchase cannabis, but grow it for themselves.
One of the biggest internal critiques of any and every new marijuana law in America is whether it does enough to help the victims of America’s war on drugs. In particular, how inequality in the sentencing of cannabis drug crimes disproportionately affects Black Americans, even though white and Black Americans consume cannabis at similar rates.
Many American citizens were put through and continue to encounter discrimination, unfair incarceration, and other unimaginable horrors so that today we may talk about legalizing cannabis and be taken seriously. Any legislation that ends cannabis prohibition owes these forefathers and any still entrenched in the War on drugs reprieve, release, and restoration of their clean record.
Again, Pennsylvania can look to New Jersey’s efforts for guidance.
While pushing toward inevitably legalizing cannabis for adult use, civil leaders in New Jersey have begun recognizing the urgent need for restorative justice following legalization. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop both agree that, in order for recreational cannabis to come to new jersey, social justice provisions must be included. Both mayors stated they will ban marijuana sales in their cities if legislation doesn’t include the immediate and automatic expungement of marijuana possession convictions of up to 50 grams.
When California’s prop 64 legalized cannabis for adult use, going into effect the beginning of 2018, those with former cannabis convictions were permitted to apply to have them designated as misdemeanors, an infraction, or see them dismissed entirely. This offers a sound example of how retroactive cannabis justice can be executed on a state level.
If Pennsylvania really is serious about taking the needed steps to legalize recreational cannabis for adult use, then Pennsylvania needs adult solutions, like home grows, expanded patient’s rights, and retroactive justice for those convicted of marijuana crimes.
About the Author
Chris Matich is a professional writer, journalist, and editor living in Pittsburgh, PA. Chris blogs for Schenley.net. His writing interests include LGBT+ people/issues, sports writing, and blogging. Chris currently writes about web optimization, blogging practices, medical cannabis, and cannabis lifestyle. He writes fiction and creative nonfiction in his spare time. Linkedin, Twitter