Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro this week called on state lawmakers to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, saying “It’s time to catch up” with neighboring states that have already taken the step. The governor made his plea on Tuesday during an annual budget address to unveil a $48.3 billion spending plan for the state.
“I ask you to come together and send to my desk a bill that legalizes marijuana,” Shapiro told state lawmakers in his address. “But that bill should ensure the industry is regulated and taxed responsibly.”
Although the Democratic governor’s budget proposal does not include a specific cannabis legalization plan, it does call on lawmakers to pass a 20% tax on recreational marijuana. The proposal assumes a January 2025 start date for adult-use cannabis sales and estimates that the state would bring in $14.8 million in tax revenue during the first year. Shapiro added that he expects Pennsylvania’s taxes on recreational marijuana to increase to approximately $250 million per year once the regulated industry is firmly established.
“We’re losing out on an industry that, once fully implemented, would bring in more than $250 million in annual revenue,” Shapiro said. “And our failure to legalize and regulate this only fuels the black market and drains much-needed resources for law enforcement. It’s time to catch up.”
In a written explanation of the $48.3 billion state budget, Shapiro administration officials wrote that some tax revenue from the regulated adult-use cannabis industry should be used for “restorative justice initiatives” to address decades of inequities in the enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws. Among the initiatives, the governor specifically called on lawmakers to pass legislation to expunge the records of those convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Additional funds from the state’s adult-use cannabis program would go to the Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania State Police. The remaining revenue would be directed to the state’s general fund.
Most Pennsylvania Voters Support Legalizing Weed
In his address, the governor noted that legalizing adult-use cannabis is supported by a majority of Pennsylvania voters and that five out of six of the Keystone State’s neighbors have already ended the prohibition of marijuana for adults.
“Last year, 57 percent of voters in Ohio supported an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana,” Shapiro said. “And now, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland – practically all of our neighbors – have legalized marijuana.”
Ben Kovler, Founder, CEO and chairman at Green Thumb Industries, a multistate cannabis company that operates 18 RISE medical marijuana dispensaries in Pennsylvania, praised Shapiro’s plan to legalize adult-use cannabis.
“We applaud Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro for prioritizing adult-use cannabis legalization this year, including a clear, definitive launch date for sales. This call for change signals continued progress in the Northeast toward ending Prohibition 2.0 and the devastating impact it has inflicted on communities,” Kovler said in a statement to High Times. “The team at Green Thumb is ready to support the people of Pennsylvania on their journey to well-being by providing access to safe, high-quality cannabis.”
Pennsylvania legalized the medicinal use of cannabis in 2016 with the passage of the Medical Marijuana Act. Under the state program, patients with one or more specified serious medical conditions are allowed to purchase and use medical marijuana. Qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania include cancer, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, terminal illness and others.
A total of 134 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries were in operation as of last year, according to state data. Since the program’s inception, more than 1.3 million patients have been certified as medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania, Spotlight PA reported in December.
Legalizing recreational marijuana is popular with some lawmakers in Pennsylvania, especially among Democrats. In December, Democratic Senator Sharif Street and Senator Camera Bartolotta, a Republican, introduced bipartisan legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Getting the bill through the Pennsylvania Senate, however, may prove difficult. Senator Kim Ward, the Senate majority leader, has said she will not support the legalization of recreational marijuana until the federal government ends cannabis prohibition, according to a report from PA Spotlight.
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