Pennsylvania's Wolf repeats call to legalize marijuana use
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf repeated his call for state lawmakers to consider the legalization of adult-use cannabis to help with the commonwealth’s recovery from COVID-19.
“We see a desperate need for the economic boost cannabis legalization can provide,” Wolf told reporters Thursday. He made a similar plea last fall, before the pandemic hit.
In his latest iteration, Wolf would earmark a portion of the revenue toward existing small business grants.
Half of the grants would target historically disadvantaged businesses, while the remainder would go toward social justice programs.
Pennsylvania would be the 12th state to legalize cannabis. The District of Columbia has done so.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has estimated that regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use could generate nearly $600 million of new revenue annually.
Wolf cited Washington state, which brought in $319 million of tax revenue in 2018. Colorado realized about $266 million, with Aurora receiving $900,000 to open a space to benefit homeless people.
“And these figures don’t count the secondary economic benefits of new businesses opening,” he said.
According to state Treasurer Joe Torsella’s fiscal health scorecard, Pennsylvania ranks in the lower third among the states in pension funding, fixed costs as percent of budget, and other post-employment benefits ratio as percent of budget.
The commonwealth passed a $25.8 billion interim fiscal 2021 budget in May that funds the state through the end of November, when the fall session ends.
Other states that have legalized are Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont.
Wolf, a second-term Democratic governor who works with a Republican-dominated legislature, called on lawmakers to incrementally begin change, starting with decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. That would adjust the charge from a third-degree misdemeanor, which can result in jail time, to a summary offense, which does not.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, expects no movement during the fall session.
“We look forward to receiving specifics about his broad concepts including who would regulate this new industry, where it would be sold, strategies for enforcement and plans to minimize the impacts on the medical marijuana industry,” Corman said. “We have long maintained that state laws should be changed because they are good policy for the people of Pennsylvania — not because of their potential to generate money.”
A report by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called for three possible actions: a referendum on legalization, decriminalization and expungement of small possession conviction.
Neighboring New Jersey has scheduled a referendum for November.
S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service rate the commonwealth’s general obligation bonds A-plus and Aa3, respectively. Fitch Ratings assigns an AA-minus.