Many consider 4/20 a day of celebration and joy for those who use cannabis. While we may enjoy this unofficial national celebration, people are still getting arrested in Pennsylvania. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 20,000 Pennsylvanians have been arrested for cannabis possession, according to NORML. It’s time to advance the ongoing fight to eliminate cannabis prohibition, legalize adult-use cannabis, and truly free the plant.
In Pennsylvania, legalization is necessary to celebrate cannabis under a free and safe environment devoid of police violence, incarceration, prosecution, and evictions committed in the name of marijuana prohibition. It’s time for all of us in this state to acknowledge the racist history of prohibition and the damage cannabis-linked incarceration has on Black and brown communities and communities suffering from lack of access to this medicine and industry.
There’s no more debate on the question of if cannabis legalization will happen in Pennsylvania. It’s all down to when it will happen, and who will decide what legalization looks like.
To truly address the generational harms of the cannabis prohibition, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration, adult-use cannabis legalization is necessary. If you’re Black and in Pennsylvania, you’re more than three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than a white person, even though cannabis use is the same rate. In Philadelphia, Black people still get arrested at high rates for cannabis despite decriminalization in 2014.
These injustices persist despite decriminalization and medical marijuana legalization, underlining the dire need for adult-use legalization to protect public safety and promote use free of harm or persecution, whether building a cannabis business or growing a personal amount at home.
Legalization has already swept the nation, with more than 17 states legalizing cannabis for adult use, one in three Americans living in a state where adult-use cannabis is legal, and more than 69% of Americans favoring legalization, according to an April 15 Quinnipiac University poll. The House of Representatives passed the historic MORE Act to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, provide reinvestment to those adversely impacted by the war on drugs, and expunge records of certain cannabis offenses. While President Joe Biden hasn’t outright led the conversation around legalization, Senate Democrats are poised to move forward with or without him.
So where is Pennsylvania in this conversation? At the state level, there’s a bipartisan bill that State Sens. Sharif Street (D., Phila.) and Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) will introduce, and another bill calling for legal cannabis to be run like the existing liquor state store system. Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman are pushing for legalization, too. Locally, City Councilmember Derek Green wants Philadelphians to show Harrisburg how much they support legalization.
The Keystone State’s neighbors New Jersey and New York legalized this year, putting more pressure on Pennsylvania lawmakers to start taking legalization seriously, lest they wish to see Pennsylvanians purchase across state lines and not only give money to other states but risk crossing state lines to carry cannabis products home. This could bring more Pennsylvanians into contact with the criminal legal system, including prisons and jails that do nothing to rehabilitate people accused of crimes and amount to a death sentence during the pandemic.
The cannabis legalization policy passed in New York arguably offers a gold standard. Can the commonwealth lawmakers one-up New York and make an even more equitable and supportive bill for its people?
Adult-use legalization can address several issues that unite lawmakers across the aisle: from using potential tax revenue to address poverty and job and workforce development, to ongoing bipartisan support for criminal legal reform, such a policy can introduce a myriad of reconciliation and repair measures for the communities that have been most impacted by marijuana’s criminalization.
The state is now in its fifth year of passing Act 16, which legalized medical marijuana, and now operates one of the strongest patient programs, with 114 operational dispensaries and 23 grower/processors shipping cannabis medicine products to dispensaries. The medical marijuana program boasts 553,000 patients and caregivers registered for the program, with 327,400 active certifications, according to Wolf’s office. And Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana programs’ total sales are close to $2.6 billion, with more than $1.5 billion in sales going from the dispensaries to patients.
That is a lot of money. As conversations progress around adult-use legalization in this state, we must be mindful of where future revenue should go. Tax revenues in other adult-use sales are well in the billions, so lawmakers should plan how future revenue could be spent, beyond earmarking for minority-owned businesses.
If Pennsylvanians truly want to celebrate the next 4/20 in freedom, legalizing adult-use cannabis, freeing people harmed by the war on drugs, and supporting those impacted by prohibition must happen now.
Tauhid Chappell is a cannabis patient and journalist based in the Philly region and founder of the Color of Cannabis and CannAtlantic Conferences. He’s a credentialed and registered Parliamentarian and is organizing the Philadelphia CannaBusiness Association with other cannabis community stakeholders in the city. email@example.com