Today, Monday February 11, State Senator Daylin Leach is initiating a push to bring marijuana reform to the Keystone State.
I was raised in Pennsylvania, and now live in Colorado, one of the two states who legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana this past November.
I am familiar with Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians, as well as the effects of a pro-cannabis legal reform. I will start by saying that legalization has always made sense to me personally. I've never believed that cannabis should be a reason to punish, fine, or imprison an otherwise law-abiding citizen.
From my (perhaps uninformed) perspective, taxing legalized cannabis generates more state revenue than the fines levied against violators of the laws. It's also relative: the more a person indulges in the controlled substance, the more they'll pay. Most users will pay into the system rather than just those that get caught by law enforcement.
In Colorado, the legislation requires that the first $40 million in annual tax revenue be credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund. Colorado's law also included legalization of hemp, which will also generate capital for the state.
Leach's proposal is to treat marijuana like alcohol, much like the laws passed in Colorado and Washington. His agenda outlines a plan to begin selling marijuana through beer distributors and state stores to generate state income and reform the criminal aspect of cannabis usage.
The law is very similar to Colorado's legislation, but Pennsylvania's Puritan traditions may not embrace the reform in the same way. In Colorado, the liberals and conservatives both seem to support the amendment. Liberals support it, much like you'd expect. Colorado's conservatives are more libertarian-leaning than PAs, believe in small government, and seem to feel marijuana shouldn't be government's concern. The combination led to support across party lines.
I'm not so sure Pennsylvania's conservatives are as willing to support a similar measure. To reference Richard Dreyfuss in "What About Bob," "Baby steps." Rome was not built in a day, as they say. Colorado has had a lenient stance on marijuana since the state passed Amendment 20, the medical marijuana law, in 2000. In fact, while several states have had medical legislation passed, Colorado was one of the few where dispensaries became more common than Starbucks. From high-end marijuana to hash oils, edibles, tinctures, and elixirs, Colorado has had it all available for over 10 years.
The move to legalization was gradual. The state eased into it, monitoring the effects of the law, and slowly minds began to open. As opponents of the law began to see that the impact was not incredibly detrimental to society, they became more likely to support actual legalization for recreational use.
I believe Leach's proposed legislation is likely a good law, but I think Pennsylvania will need to be courted a bit before it goes home with a law like this. If I were proposing the law, I would likely use the next two elections to enact preliminary legislation allowing medical use and dispensaries to establish a level of comfort with legal leniency towards the plant and its use. Also, decriminalization and legalization in some of the cities or communities within the Commonwealth that are open to it would be beneficial. Much like the laws in Colorado and Washington are impacting the national perspective, decriminalization in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or even smaller communities like Lansdale, could impact the state's perspective.
Marijuana reform is coming ... It may be a while before a state like Alabama legalizes, and in fact, state laws against marijuana may outlast federal law, but reform is coming, and it has begun to arrive.
Several years from now, this era of marijuana's illegal status will be looked upon as the prohibition era is viewed. For Leach, his supporters will be his greatest resource. He has already garnered support from law enforcers, health care advocates, educators, and legislators to assist with his launch of the initiative, but will need to attract a large number of influential supporters to overcome the opposition he will surely face.
If PA intends to pass this law, the "Key-stoners" will need to come out in force and prove they have enough motivation to put down the bong and go vote.