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A bill introduced to the House of Representatives just last week would legalize recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania through state-run dispensaries.  

Medical cannabis has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2016, however, the first medical marijuana dispensary didn’t open until 2018. The state has yet to legalize recreational cannabis

The proposed legislation, titled House Bill 1899, is sponsored by Democratic Representative David Dellosso, along with 23 other co-sponsors. Passage of HB 1899 would legalize the purchase, possession, consumption, and even cultivation of cannabis for adults over the age of 21 across the state of Pennsylvania. 

According to the wording of the bill,

“In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes and individual freedom, the people of this Commonwealth find and declare that the use of cannabis should be legal for individuals who are at least 21 years of age and should be taxed.” 

A tax rate of 19% would also be applied to all recreational cannabis sales.

Rather than allowing individually owned recreational marijuana dispensaries, however, Pennsylvania’s proposed recreational marijuana program would be run entirely by the state’s Liquor Control Board. 

Rep. Dellosso has highlighted several potential pitfalls of recreational legalization, saying in a memo this past summer, “Permitting private companies to sell cannabis in Pennsylvania could allow large corporations to take over the cannabis industry, putting profits before the well-being of our communities. For these reasons, my legislation will legalize adult-use cannabis through the current state store system in order to ensure the safety and integrity of cannabis sales in Pennsylvania.”

Whether a state-run dispensary program would prevent such issues, however, is debatable; across the United States, state-run Liquor Control Boards are subject to pressure from huge, multi-national corporations with considerable lobbying influence over policymakers. 

Unfortunately, conservative Pennsylvania lawmakers have prevented any attempts at recreational legalization; as self-proclaimed proponents of personal freedom and states rights, Republicans should be supporting legalization, but financial interests in the liquor industry continue to prevail. 

House Republicans, who currently hold the majority, have expressed strong disapproval of the bill, saying in a recent statement, “Our caucus has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana.” 

Governor Wolf recently announced his approval of recreational cannabis legalization, saying, “We now know the majority of Pennsylvanians are in favor of legalization, and that includes me. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together, especially the criminal justice reforms I am proposing today, which will have an immediate positive influence on thousands of families across Pennsylvania.” 

The criminal justice reforms referred to in the statement by Gov. Wolf would include expunging the record of thousands of Pennsylvania residents who have been previously convicted of minor cannabis possession. Companies would also be prohibited from firing employees solely on the basis of the “presence of a nonintoxicating level of cannabis.” As in other states that have legalized recreational cannabis, certain job sectors would be exempt from this drug testing requirement, for example, those operating heavy machinery, driving buses, etc. 

If the legislation successfully passes the House, the Pennsylvania State Liquor Control Board would have until July 1, 2020 to create formal guidelines and procedures for licensing producers and dispensaries.