19 May 2016
Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) is introducing a bill that would downgrade penalties for marijuana possession across Pennsylvania and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) has announced a comprehensive cannabis legalization plan.
It’s a two-step plan. First, stop the drain on public resources with decriminalization, then move on to regulation. The Keystone State could join the evolution of states making money in the move away from pot prohibition.
Elected officials recognize the strong public sentiments. A Quinnipiac University Poll released last week looked at the presidential election in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The poll’s regular check-in with likely voters also regularly poses questions about cannabis.
When asked about “allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use” the poll found 57-percent of Pa. voters support the concept. Thirty-nine percent opposed the concept. That an impressive 10-point jump is support over 2015 levels. Medical access to marijuana was already polling at 90 percent in Pa.
The recent spike in support comes on the heels of a limited cannabis products law and an industrial hemp research bill being passed in Harrisburg.
Pennsylvania residents have also been watching from afar the last two years of steady roll outs in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Alaska is comes online this fall.
This November, voters in Nevada, Massachusetts, California, Arizona, Maine and possibly other states will get a chance to legalize at the ballot booth. It could be a the biggest year yet for the issue.
The new legislation in Pennsylvania builds on existing policies and looks ahead.
Philadelphia has seen a sharp reduction in arrests for small amounts of pot, and the city has saved an estimated $4 million with decriminalization since October 2014. Instead of an arrest and a court date, Philly police issue $25 tickets instead. Pittsburgh recently enacted an ordinance with a similar approach.
Rep. Gainey wants to bring that kind of policy to the rest of the commonwealth.
“Overwhelming evidence supports the notion that non-violent drug and alcohol abuse is a public health issue that requires treatment, and not imprisonment; it is not a criminal issue,” said Rep. Gainey in his co-sponsorship memo.
There were 17,525 marijuana possession arrests statewide in 2015 according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
Gainey’s bill would downgrade possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis and less than 8 grams of hash from a misdemeanor to a summary offnse, with a fine of up to $100. Police in every town, as well as state police, could issue tickets and fines. The existing municipal decriminalization ordinances would be unchanged.
Between $25 million and $40 million in public safety budget savings could be found by making the shift. The majority of the savings would be for local police forces and courts.
Governor Tom Wolf has consistently backed decriminalizing cannabis. He told WPXI in Pittsburgh last year, “There are a lot of reasons to look at decriminalization. I think that’s something that I support.”
Gainey’s bill would also not revoke driving privileges and make it easier for offenders to clear their records.
“We cannot afford either the short term or the long term effects of saddling Pennsylvanians with misdemeanor charges and convictions for minor cannabis possession,” said Gainey.
Delaware’s marijuana decriminalization law went into effect last year and Maryland’s went into effect in 2014.
Rep. Harris’ will bill would allow home cultivation as well as taxation and regulation of a retail market. All of this would be accessed by adults 21 and older.
Gainey Fact Sheet2016-05-09_16-53-32__024-Medical-Marijuana-Facts-flyer