By Mark Hofmann, The Herald Standard
Even though several states have voted to make recreational marijuana legal, those in and entering the Pennsylvania legislature said they have not changed their opinions on the subject.
In April, the state legislature approved the medical marijuana bil to allow people suffering from seizures to be treated with cannabis oil to reduce the number of seizures they experience.
However, on Election Day, the states of California, Nevada, Main and Massachusetts approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.
With Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana only five months old, legislators aren’t giving the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana use much weight.
“It has not changed my stance at all,” said State Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, who added he believes the four states that voted to make recreational use legal are making a mistake. “It will take a long time before I change my stance on recreational marijuana.”
Stefano voted for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, but said h has issues with legalizing what people have called a gateway recreational drug during an ongoing opioid crisis.
“The risks would outweigh the benefits,” Stefano said. “I just don think we’re ready.”
State Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, said he, too, supported medical marijuana in Pennsylvania to help those with cancer an those who suffer seizures, but he believes the main focus needs to be eradicating the current drug epidemic.
“Addressing this opioid crisis should be one of the top priorities for every lawmaker in the state — not legalizing more drugs,” Ryan said.
“I don’t think it’s the right time for us in Pennsylvania to do that right now,” said State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson Township. “We haven’t even implemented the medical cannabis bill.”
Snyder said she wants to wait and see what research comes out of those states that have legalized recreational marijuana, but said when it comes to cannabis, she wants to focus on the medical marijuana implementation in Pennsylvania first as she said it will help a lot of people and doctors.
“I am a staunch supporter of the legalization of medicinal cannabis, which is why I sponsored three amendments to the legislation that was championed by Sen. Mike Folmer and enacted into law,” said state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township. “In this day and age, Pennsylvanians who are truly suffering, medically, should not be denied every opportunity to treatment.”
Bartolotta, however, said she doesn’t support recreational cannabis.
“I believe it can lead to bigger problems, such as an increase in DUI cases,” she said, adding that parents and children with extreme seizure disorders are the ones that need to benefit from the medical use of marijuana. “That’s what this is all about —giving men, women and children with serious medical conditions the ability to live better lives.”
“Far too many medical professionals have called marijuana a gateway drug for me to be able to support (recreational) legalization currently,” said Matthew Dowling, a Republican, who will be serving the 51st Legislative District and agrees that the opioid epidemic is what needs to be addressed.
Seven states have now legalized recreational pot, and a recent Gallup poll showed close to 60 percent of Americans support the idea.
Stefano said he has heard from those in his constituency in the 32nd Senatorial District on both sides of the issue and said about 70 percent are against recreational marijuana use.
Colorado, where stores began legally selling recreational pot in 2014, reported almost $1 billion in legal pot sales last year. Arcview Market Research, which tracks the marijuana industry, estimates that legal annual California pot revenues could exceed$7 billion by 2020.
Even the potential for additional tax money going to Harrisburg’s pot sales hasn’t swayed lawmakers.
“The state of Pennsylvania doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem,” Warner said.
While Warner said he respects the rights of individual states to make decisions that they deem best for themselves, he said Pennsylvania already has some of the highest sin taxes in the country, and rather than focusing on new similar taxes, legislato should be looking at ways to cut wasteful spending in Harrisburg
“Yes, I’m sure it’s going to generate revenue, but there’s things t take into account other than revenue,” Snyder said.
Stefano said the legalization of recreational marijuana could come with cost increases for things like drug treatment and different issues like the federal government’s restrictions on marijuana use.
“That complicates our ability to tax it,” Stefano said.
Dowling said relying on revenue from drugs is not sound public policy.
“Rather I think the states should control their costs and make cuts before following this path as a way to be able to further Gov [Tom] Wolf’s liberal agenda and outrageous spending,” Dowling said.