Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have put forth three unique proposals to accomplish several goals: the legalization of recreational marijuana, addressing social justice for those with minor cannabis convictions, and tapping into the economic potential of a multi-billion-dollar market.
In a remarkable development, two co-sponsorship memos are circulating in both the House and Senate. Endorsed by State Senator Marty Flynn from Lackawanna/Lehigh and State Representative David Delloso from Delaware, the memos suggest an innovative concept – selling cannabis through government-operated liquor stores, with stringent age limitations to guarantee access only to adults 21 and older.
The propositions would also permit Pennsylvania residents to cultivate and process up to six marijuana plants for personal consumption, encouraging self-reliance and individual responsibility.
By requiring all cannabis transactions to occur within the state-controlled system, the commonwealth would establish a monopoly over both alcohol and marijuana sales, while also advocating for union labor utilization.
Campaign finance documents indicate that Delloso and Flynn receive considerable support from unions, making their proposals a stride towards promoting economic fairness and labor rights in Pennsylvania.
State Representatives Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) and Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) have composed another memo, adopting an alternative stance on sales within the state liquor system.
Their proposal emphasizes five critical objectives: consumer protection, social justice promotion, economic equity advancement, substance abuse prevention, and revenue generation.
Frankel and Bullock argue that it is time to adopt a fresh outlook on regulating and taxing this substantial agricultural product, aiming to improve the wellbeing and overall health of Pennsylvania’s citizens.
The primary emphasis in all three memos is on fostering social justice. Although Frankel and Bullock’s memo offers fewer specific legislative provisions, the memos penned by Delloso and Flynn both advocate for the expungement of minor marijuana-related crimes.
Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry could be worth $1.66 billion annually
Since legalizing cannabis for medicinal use in 2018, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana sales have soared to an impressive $6.3 billion by November.
In the 12 months preceding October, dispensaries alone recorded approximately $1.4 billion in sales, as per the data from the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. With 423,443 certified active patients, the demand for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania shows no signs of dwindling.
A 5% gross receipts tax is levied on growers and processors for their sales to dispensaries in Pennsylvania. The anticipated gross receipts for the forthcoming fiscal year are estimated at $41.8 million, as outlined in the current state budget. Patients are exempt from sales tax on their medical marijuana purchases.
In 2018, former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale conducted astudy that valued Pennsylvania’s potential recreational marijuana market at $1.66 billion.
Fast forward to 2021’s budget hearings, where Matthew Knittel, director of the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office, estimated that legalizing recreational cannabis could yield between $500 million and $700 million in tax revenue for the state.
While recreational marijuana is now legal in 21 states, including neighboring states like New Jersey, Maryland, and New York, it remains prohibited under federal law.
During a state Senate hearing on legalization last year, two industry experts projected Pennsylvania’s illegal marijuana trade to be worth an astonishing $3 billion to $4 billion each year. To date, no formal legislative proposal has been made despite the circulation of the three memos.
The proposed bill specified that the legal age for marijuana use would be 21 and outlined various regulations related to production, sales, possession, and expungement of criminal records.
Interestingly, the bill did not seek to modify laws regarding impaired driving. However, it aimed to protect workers by prohibiting their dismissal based on non-intoxicating levels of positive drug tests.
Despite being referred to the House Liquor Control Committee, the bill ultimately remained stalled during the session.
When the Republican Party held a majority, the chances for legalization were quite limited. However, now that Democrats have gained broader support for the cause, the possibility of pro-cannabis legislation passing the House is not likely, though the votes are not assured.
Even if such legislation were to succeed in the House, the likelihood of it being approved in the state Senate remains rather low, given the evident opposition from Republicans on this matter.