Pennsylvania lawmakers on Tuesday again announced the introduction of legislation to legalize cannabis for adults, this time with a stronger emphasis on equity provisions.
Democratic Reps. Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel held a news conference on Tuesday, during which they released details of their latest legalization plan. In June, the pair tried to build momentum for this legislation through a memo that encouraged colleagues to join as sponsors.
While House Bill 2050 is broadly similar to earlier cannabis legislation in the state, “this is a completely new bill with a lot of, we think, important improvements. We think we have the industry standard,” Wheatley said at the start of the conference on Tuesday.
Wheatley pointed to the state’s existing medical cannabis program as an example of success, and said that one of the aims of the new legislation is to free up law enforcement resources so they can go toward more “significant, impactful crime and activity.”
“If we have a standard to regulate, and educate them about cannabis, and the utilization of cannabis, we think we can create a safer, more informed society,” Wheatley said.
Frankel called House Bill 2050 a “far-reaching” bill that puts public health first, and spoke about the history of mass incarceration and how disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws has affected communities of color. He also highlighted the long-term ramifications of just one cannabis conviction, from fallout with employment prospects to issues with education and loan lenders.
“I think it’s really a great piece of legislation that I think will hopefully galvanize that conversation to finally deal with this,” Frankel said. “The most important part of this legislation seeks to repair some of the damage caused by generations of harmful policy in this area.”
The plan would allow for adults 21 and older to purchase cannabis from retailers; those sales would be taxed 13%, with revenue divided up 15% toward treatment, 15% toward community reinvestment efforts, and the remaining 70% would head toward the general fund. Pennsylvania residents could also apply for certification to grow up to three mature (and three immature) cannabis plants at home. The proposal includes automatic expungement of qualifying cannabis convictions, and would create an Office of Social and Economic Equity.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman are also longtime supporters of adult use cannabis legalization, with Wolf calling this year for legalization by budget, though this was more of a renewed push for a shift in cannabis policies than it was a firm announcement that legalization was part of the budget legislation.
“There is no reason why we can’t work together, Democrats and Republicans, to pass these initiatives,” Wolf said in February, referencing criminal justice reform and legalization.
Fetterman, who is now running for a U.S. Senate seat, said during a news conference in September 2020 that during the course of a listening tour of all 67 Pennsylvania counties, he saw that roughly 65-70% of Pennsylvanians who attended these public meetings expressed support for legalization. Many of these areas were distinctly red-leaning, Fetterman said.
“I pitched this to our red counties, our Republican-led counties. Our farmers need a cash crop. Now, our small counties need an economic boost and they need employability,” Fetterman said.
Also in February, Democratic Senator Sharif Street and Republican Senator Dan Laughlin held a news conference to announce their bill to bring adult use cannabis in Pennsylvania, which stalled. Street told Cannabis Wire at the time that he had one-on-one calls with Republican lawmakers, to try to build support for the legislation.
“I believe that there is significant Republican support and we just have to continue to do the work,” Street added.