Why Pennsylvania’s Marijuana Legalization Bill is Exciting and Progressive
Admittedly this subject is near and dear to me. As a girl born and raised in PA I had to hide my cannabis use for all my life (AKA when I started smoking at age 14) until I moved out to Colorado. Every time I go home to visit friends and family they beg me to help them find something for a friend with cancer, lupus, chron’s, you name it (yes, cannabis is medically legal but prices are inflated and people deserve the power to grow their own if they cant afford medical marijuana). I’m watching people suffer when I go home to PA in a way that Coloradans can’t understand.
When I saw that Pennsylvania was filing a Marijuana Legalization bill, I immediately assumed it was going to be the bare minimum, just designed for the state to make as much money as possible and give the people the least freedom. But I was surprised to see that what Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) proposed is progressive and allows for more freedoms than places like Colorado.
I’m not saying this bill is going to pass, but if it did here are some of the things it may include:
- It Would Allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers.
- Social justice provisions aimed at promoting equity in the industry, including automatically expunging prior marijuana convictions and providing interest-free loans to low-income individuals who want to participate in the market.
- Adults could grow up to 10 cannabis plants for personal use—more than any other state allows—under the bill. Homegrowers could keep it for personal use or give it away but would be prohibited from selling it. Annual permit: $50
- Small businesses would be allowed to grow up to 150 cannabis plants to sell to processors and dispensaries. Microgrowers wouldn’t be able to use the product themselves or sell directly to consumers. Annual permit: $250
- Current medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to sell recreational weed as long as they kept their inventory and supply chains separate. There would be no cap on the number of potential retailers but ownership would be limited to three storefronts. Dispensaries would be allowed to hold permits to deliver cannabis and open a lounge where people could consume marijuana. To ensure safety of the products, dispensaries would be held liable “for civil treble damages” for harm caused by inaccurate labeling of sold cannabis. Permit: $5,000.
- So-called Big Marijuana would be kept in check. Permits would allow for no more than 150,000 square feet of outdoor weed farming or 60,000 square feet under indoor lights. There would be no limit on total number of growers, but each grower would be limited to an ownership stake in only one grow facility. Application would cost $100,000, annual renewal would cost $10,000.
- Marijuana deliveries and social use lounges at dispensaries would also be permitted.
- Research! Colleges and universities could grow and process cannabis in conjunction with any classes they offer related to the weed industry. All product, however, must be destroyed and not used by any individual. Though the offer is attractive, most schools would be unlikely to participate for fear of being stripped of federal grants.
Today we formally introduced SB 350, the Adult Use Cannabis bill. If U support it, go to this link https://t.co/V2Ni1m1uZO to B a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the bill, & get updates! We need all of your help to pass this. #Legalizeit #CannabisCommunity #CannabisNews #cannabisindustry
— Daylin Leach (@daylinleach) October 15, 2019
“Pennsylvania’s cannabis policy is cruel, irrational and expensive,” Leach, who previously championed the legislation that created state’s medical cannabis law, said in a press release. “Prohibition has destroyed countless lives and has cost taxpayers millions.”
“We need to stop arresting our kids and funding violent drug cartels,” he said. “This is going to be a tough battle, but so was passing medical marijuana. We did that, and we’ll do this too. The stakes are too high for us to fail.”
The bill, first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, is designed to limit the influence of large marijuana corporations and empower small businesses to enter the market. It would accomplish that creating licenses for microgrowers who could cultivate up to 150 plants, with permits costing $250 annually. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries could sell recreational products as long as the supply chains are kept separate, and there’d be no cap on the number of retailers. However, no single owner could operate more than three shops.
For large marijuana firms, they’d be limited to 150,000 square feet of outdoor space for cultivation or 60,000 square feet for indoor facilities. Like dispensaries, there isn’t a cap on how many of these facilities could operate, but licenses would be capped at one per owner. There’d be a $100,000 application fee, with renewals costing $10,000 annually.
Unlike a separate legalization bill that was introduced earlier this month, this proposal would not utilize state-run stores to distribute legal marijuana.
“An end to the prohibition of cannabis is overdue,” Street said. “It is time for us to join the emerging cannabis economy with the legalization of the Adult Use of Cannabis in PA, which should not be a crime when responsibly used by adults nor mandate medical oversight.”
“The economic imperatives are too great,” the senator said. “We also have a moral mandate to correct the damage that disparate enforcement of our marijuana laws has done and is still doing to communities across the commonwealth.”
Cannabis retail sales would be taxed at 17.5 percent, which the lawmakers predict will generate $500 million during the first fiscal year of implementation. Revenue would be mostly directed to school districts, which would be able to decide how they spend their shares, whether by hiring additional staff, investing in educational programs or even providing “local tax relief to homeowners in their districts,” according to the lawmakers’ press release.
“We’re fighting to create an adult-use cannabis program where individuals harmed by prohibition and small Pennsylvanian farms and businesses will have the opportunity to not only participate in the industry, but to profit from it,” Leach, who also launched a website where residents can voice support for the bill, said.
The legislation contains a few other unique provisions, including allowing universities to process cannabis to be used for any courses related to the marijuana industry. (The lawmakers acknowledged many schools will be reluctant to take advantage of that, however, due to concerns about losing federal funds.) It would also require the Department of Agriculture to establish an educational program to instruct people about cannabis entrepreneurship.
All told, the bill is sure to generate excitement among marijuana reform advocates, as it takes into account social justice concerns while ensuring that consumers are put ahead of large cannabis corporations. Home delivery, social use lounges and personal cultivation are also provisions that aren’t always included in other states’ marijuana bills.
Interestingly, the legislation explicitly allows marijuana businesses to utilize any mode of transportation for deliveries, including walking or public transit.
Leach and Street first released details about the bill in March, around the same time that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a vocal proponent of legalization, embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear where constituents stand on the issue.
He and Wolf unveiled their findings from the tour during a press conference in late September, when the governor announced that he’s officially on board with legalization after previously stating that he didn’t feel the state was quite ready for the reform. He said the legislature should “seriously debate” legalization, while pursuing more modest reforms in the meantime.
Despite strong administrative support, the legislation will likely face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Street told the Inquirer that while there currently aren’t any Republican cosponsors, he’s optimistic that the bill will attract GOP members.
“I think the bill will ultimately be enacted and get wide Republican support,” the senator said. “Many of my Republican colleagues tell me that they support the concept, and believe it eventually will be adopted.”
“It’s an economic, political, and moral win for both sides,” Leach said. “It keeps the black-market tamped down, the $500 million generated in cannabis fees would be directed to the schools, it decreases regulation by eliminating the seed-to-sale tracking.”
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