Legalization of Adult-use Marijuana: It’s Time to Have the Conversation

Legalization of Adult-use Marijuana: It’s Time to Have the Conversation
By PA State Rep. Jake Wheatley, 19th District/Allegheny County

It’s no secret that I am a proponent of legalizing adult-use cannabis. And I’m not alone.

Last fall, many Pennsylvanians made their voices heard in support of legalization for adult-use cannabis during Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s listening tour across the state. Eleven states have already taken that step, after listening to their residents, and the time is now to make it a reality here in the commonwealth.

I’ve recently introduced legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis through a permitting structure for growers, processors and dispensaries, with a portion of the sale to be used for a variety of socially-minded programs to help our communities, including after-school youth programs, student loan forgiveness and affordable housing assistance. House Bill 2050 also includes a Cannabis Clean Slate provision, providing for the expungement of cannabis-related offenses for non-violent offenders.

This bill is sorely needed, because initial studies have shown there’s a substantial problem with access as it relates to the state’s medical marijuana program. The program provides medical marijuana for patients with several serious medical conditions, including severe, chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Unfortunately, the program is not helping all those who need it, including people of color and low-income working-class communities. Among the issues they experience:

  • Lack of reliable transportation to a medical dispensary, including dispensaries that are some distance from their community.
  • Failure to find a physician in their community to prescribe cannabis for their health condition.
  • Financial concerns, including costs of the medical marijuana ID card, dispensary products, etc.

A recent report in Lancaster Online found the majority of marijuana patients using the state’s medical marijuana program are paying $200 a month or more for dispensary products. That same report also cited results from an anonymous survey from the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. Respondents were asked why they stopped using medical marijuana:

  • 61% said they couldn’t afford it.
  • 42% stopped using because their insurance wouldn’t cover it.
  • 41% couldn’t find a consistent supply of what they needed for their specific medical condition.

The result? Pennsylvanians who need cannabis for chronic, debilitating pain or to ease their PTSD symptoms can’t get it.

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My bill would greatly improve access by implementing a strong, viable and comprehensive marketplace for adult-use cannabis, and also enact significant criminal and social justice reforms. In addition, my legislation includes a provision that would prohibit employers from terminating an employment in the event a random drug screening detects the presence of non-intoxicating levels of cannabis. Furthermore, employers may not refuse to hire a prospective employee, based on the presence of cannabis found in his/her drug screening.

Introducing this legislation provides an opportunity to dispel several myths and misconceptions about adult-use cannabis. Cannabis is not a “gateway drug,” nor does it encourage the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of other drugs, like opioids. Cannabis is also not harmful and has never singularly led to any person’s death. The same can’t be said for alcohol, which is legal and responsible for tens of thousands of deaths annually.

I’m asking for open and honest dialogue, in Harrisburg and statewide, because we have an opportunity to help those in need, and at the same time, make positive changes to our criminal and social justice systems to revitalize and strengthen our disadvantaged communities.

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I invite you to find out more about my bill, and how it compares to two other cannabis-related bills, by visiting my website: https://www.pahouse.com/Wheatley/NewsCenter/ and click on Cannabis Report under the News Center section.

Let’s have the conversation and move our state forward.

Rep. Jake Wheatley is Democratic chairman of the PA House Finance Committee and represents the 19th Legislative District.

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